KARACHI: Experts at a meeting held on Monday expressed their concerns over a steep decline in pangolin population in the country and underscored the need for creating awareness particularly among communities living in areas home to the mammalian species.

The meeting was organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Pakistan, to discuss conservation of pangolins in the light of worrisome media reports indicating that the population of the scaly mammalian has reduced to a point that if its poaching and illegal trade wasn’t checked, it could become extinct within a few years in the region.

The meeting chaired by Abdul Rahim Soomro, provincial forest and wildlife secretary was attended by IUCN representatives, officials of Sindh and Balochistan forest and wildlife departments, zoological survey department, World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan, biodiversity experts, academicians and independent consultants.

Sharing his concerns, provincial secretary of forest and wildlife said that while various stakeholders were making efforts to control poaching and smuggling of pangolins in Pakistan, there was a need for capacity building.

“There is a need to properly train the Customs staff as well as the police force to check wildlife smuggling,” he said during the meeting, regretting how hunters were destroying biodiversity by killing important wildlife species.

In his welcome remarks, IUCN country representative Mahmood Akhtar Cheema said that the organisation was striving for pangolins’ conservation and consulting the federal and provincial governments as well as relevant stakeholders to comprehend the key challenges in this regard and come up with concrete measures to address this issue.

“Pangolin population is on the decline and if proper measures are not taken in time, the loss can be irreversible,” he feared.

Dr Javed Ahmed, a conservationist, emphasised the need for research to identify pangolin hotspots and gaps in the relevant laws to ensure fulfilling of legal obligations towards conservation.

Conservator wildlife Sindh Javed Mahar said that trans-boundary species which were confiscated should be given the same protective status that these species were accorded in their own countries.

He expressed his concern for lack of published material on pangolins and urged stakeholders to publish appropriate awareness material on the species.

He also cited reports indicating a steep decline in pangolin population in Sindh and Balochistan border areas such as Chotiari desert and the Nara desert.

The meeting participants agreed on the development of communication material and raising awareness on the role of pangolins in the ecosystem.

They also stressed the importance of working with local communities and providing them with economic incentives as it had been found that people involved in poaching were often forced by poverty to take up the illegal business.

There was also consensus to develop close coordination among all stakeholders and formation of a working group to take this initiative forward.

It is pertinent to mention here that the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) is the only pangolin species found in Pakistan out of a total eight species reported from all the tropical regions of Asia and Africa.

The species is a natural pest controller while their burrowing behaviour improved soil’s nutrient quality.

According to experts, the species is hunted for its scales, which are sold for illegal trade and exported from Pakistan at high rates to countries like China and Vietnam. The scales are reportedly crushed into powder to make traditional medicines.

One major obstacle in conservation efforts, they say, is the low amount of fine imposed on poachers.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2019