PROTECTING PANGOLINS: INSIGHTS INTO THE WORLD’S MOST TRAFFICKED MAMMAL ON WORLD PANGOLIN DAY 2021

“On Christmas Eve we received an adult male pangolin. He was walking on all fours, with his hands down, and dragging his tail,” says Torie, Animal Care and Rehabilitation Manager at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre. “He was really showing us signs that he was absolutely exhausted.”
 

This is typical of the pangolins that come to us. Rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, they are often suffering from stress, dehydration and exhaustion.

“Our first priority is to stabilise the pangolin medically,” says LWT’s Wildlife Care Technician Abel. “Often we’ll only know certain details – in one case, we knew the pangolin had been kept in a maize sack for two weeks before coming to us.”

Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked mammal, accounting for as much as 20% of all illegal wildlife trade.

Malawi is a range state for the Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, the only pangolin species found in Southern Africa. Solitary and active mostly at night, they range from the size of a cat to around a metre long. 

These scaly, elusive mammals have long snouts and even longer tongues, which they use to lap up ants and termites that they excavate from mounds with their powerful front claws.

Although they might look like reptiles, pangolins are actually mammals. In fact, pangolins are the world’s most trafficked mammal, accounting for as much as 20% of all illegal wildlife trade.

Pangolins are now threatened with extinction. Research estimates that global populations have declined by 80% in the last 20 years. Pangolin numbers are being decimated to satisfy demand in Asia, where their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are prized in traditional medicine – despite there being no scientific evidence for their efficacy.

DID YOU KNOW?

While they look and act a lot like anteaters and armadillos, pangolins are more closely related to bears, cats and dogs.

Pangolin-related arrests more than tripled between 2019 and 2020
 

The scale of the illicit global pangolin trade reflects the involvement of serious organised crime. Pangolin-related arrests in Malawi more than tripled between 2019 and 2020, a reflection of both improved law enforcement and an increase in trafficking activity. Of pangolin cases completed in 2020, 95% resulted in a custodial conviction of between 1.5 and 10 years. Pangolins are afforded the highest level of protection in Malawi under wildlife legislation that was updated in 2019. Perpetrators caught in possession of live pangolins or any of their derivatives face a prison sentence of up to 30 years.

How is the Malawi Government responding?

• Strengthened legislation & legal tools
• Specialist investigations & prosecutions
• Collaborative response
• Campaigns
• Rescue & release

Some positive news
 

Our team works hard to rehabilitate and release pangolins back into the wild, where they belong. In 2020 we released 17 pangolins, thanks to effective partnerships and new legal protocols.

“Thankfully, the pangolin that came to us at Christmas didn’t have any wounds – which isn’t always the case,” says Torie. “But he was exhausted, so we monitored him at the Centre for a few days before moving him to a site with more space to roam.”

The pangolin remained in our team’s care for three weeks, during which time it was given intensive support. Pangolins feed by foraging on ants and termites, so they must be taken on foraging ‘walks’ to find enough food – sometimes for up to five hours at a time.

17

number of pangolins we released in 2020

“We saw how he’d gained strength, how he was eating on his own, and we knew he was ready to go back into the wild,” says Torie.

Once the pangolin was deemed fit for release, our team worked carefully with partners, including the Department of Natural Parks and Wildlife and African Parks, to choose a release site that was safe and provided enough food sources.

Strong enough to survive on his own again in the wild, the team fitted him with a transmitter and released him back into his natural habitat.

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“We followed him for a few days and saw that he was walking with his tail up, his hands up off the ground. He was finding his own food, he was finding nest sites, burrowing,” says Torie. “Seeing him do all of the things a pangolin should – it’s why we do what we do.”

To commemorate World Pangolin Day 2021, we supported the Department of Natural Parks and Wildlife in developing a briefing paper and delivering a briefing to the media about the scale of the illicit pangolin trade.

Report pangolin crime

Help protect pangolins by anonymously notifying the authorities if you see pangolins for sale at markets or on restaurant menus, or if you know of anyone capturing or possessing pangolins.

To report suspicious activity, call 0994 942240 or email info@wildlife.gov.mw