CONSERVATION: ON THE VERGE OF EXTINCTION

Published April 1, 2018
The pangolin, also called the scaly anteater, is a threatened species
The pangolin, also called the scaly anteater, is a threatened species

On December 18, 2015 a pangolin was found in a residential lane near Islamia college in Karachi and was handed over to, first, the Karachi Zoo and, later, to wildlife authorities who released it in its natural habitat, the Kirthar National Park.

On January 16, 2016 in the posh Zamzama locality of Karachi, a security guard fired several shots on an unsuspecting animal that he thought was about to attack him. The poor animal, a harmless pangolin, despite being taken to a veterinary clinic succumbed to its injuries.

How these animals came to be roaming the streets of Karachi is not known, as they usually inhabit barren foothills, sandy and arid regions of the country. What is known is that they are a threatened species and need to be protected. They belong to one of the key wildlife species that is under the spotlight in the conservation arena and fighting for survival.

Declared a threatened species, the indigenous pangolin needs protection against illegal trade

There are eight species of pangolin in the world which are found in Africa and Asia. Sadly, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, all species of pangolin are endangered and require immediate conservation efforts.

Only one of the four Asian species, the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), is found in Pakistan.

Some of the immediate threats to pangolins include poaching, illegal trade and habitat degradation. Also known as the scaly anteater, the pangolin is hunted for its scales which are illegally sold for use in traditional Chinese medicine, fetching huge amounts of money. Poaching, illegal hunting and trafficking of the animal to countries such as China and Vietnam have drastically reduced its population in Pakistan.

During 2015, the Indonesian government seized tons of frozen pangolins worth millions of dollars being smuggled to China. According to estimates, around one million pangolins have been victims of human activity around the globe. The dwindling population of pangolins has been a point of immense concern across the world.

In Africa, China and Vietnam, this animal is found on restaurant menus and this has increased its demand in addition to it having medicinal value. Due to the increase in demand, pangolins are fast vanishing in China, East and Southeast Asia, where instances of extensive illegal trade have been reported. While many people are unaware of the importance and even the existence of pangolins, there are some who know them very well due to the lure of the handsome amounts of money they fetch in illegal trade and poaching.

According to Dr Mumtaz Malik, Advisor Forestry and Wildlife Management Department at the University of Haripur, “Illegal trade has been one of the largest threats to the population of pangolins in the wild. It is very sad that this animal, which coils up at the time of danger in the presence of predators, unfortunately turns out to be very vulnerable due to this very quality as it becomes easy for humans to capture and trade them for monetary gains.” He further points out, “Pangolins are dreadful in appearance but, in fact, they are harmless insectivorous creatures. They have no teeth — they can’t even bite. But, in rural areas, people think of it as an alien creature.”

Across the globe, more than one-third of faunal species face the threat of extinction. There are several factors — such as high market value, accelerated habitat loss and illegal wildlife trade — that have significantly contributed to the decline of many species. A wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, maintains that trade is one of the chief driving factors threatening the survival of the defenceless species.

Its habit to curl up in face of danger, renders the pangolin more vulnerable
Its habit to curl up in face of danger, renders the pangolin more vulnerable

The pangolin is protected under the provisions of the Wildlife Acts in Pakistan which enforce a complete ban on its poaching and trade. The provincial wildlife departments have also confiscated pangolins that have been poached to discourage illegal cross-border trade in Pakistan.

Concerned about the dire situation, the international community has come up with certain multilateral environmental agreements and conventions under which the signatory countries are bound to protect several species from extinction.

The international community has put in place several important inter-governmental treaties and agreements to protect pangolins from extinction, with legislation at the national level to comply with international obligations towards the species’ conservation and protection.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) has a mandate to ensure that the international trade in wild fauna and flora must not result in extinction. Appendix 1 of the Convention comprises species whose international trade is prohibited as it could otherwise threaten the survival of the species. Some of the important species of Appendix 1 include rhinoceroses, tigers, cheetahs, giant pandas, African elephants, falcons, etc.

Earlier, the pangolin was listed among the Appendix II species that were not at risk of extinction and their trade was regulated under import and export permits. But during its 17th meeting in September 2016, the Conference of the Parties at Johannesburg declared all eight species of the pangolin to be up-listed to the Appendix 1 list by enforcing international ban on trade in pangolins. It is believed to have relieved the conservationists across the world. Countries are now taking active efforts to protect the vanishing population of pangolins in face of this new conservation development scenario for pangolins.

The pangolin is at home in its natural habitat
The pangolin is at home in its natural habitat

“A lot needs to be done to protect the species from extinction,” says Malik, “such as developing baseline data through research, conservation projects, large-scale awareness programmes for the local people and hunters. Superstitions and myths regarding the pangolin in our society has also been one of the major driving factors for persecution of this mammal.”

There is an urgent need to create awareness among the general population regarding conservation of wildlife. It is believed that strict law-enforcement, pangolin conservation projects, enhancing protection staff and fines, adequate funds, large-scale awareness initiatives, hunter and community education programmes will contribute in effective conservation of the species at large. Besides this, there should be strict penalties for culprits involved in the illegal trade of pangolins and other endangered species in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 1st, 2018

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