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‘Pangolins in Cameroon are on the verge of extinction’

  • Posted By
    10Pointer
  • Categories
    Environment
  • Published
    16th Feb, 2021
  • Context

    Sub-topic

    GS-III:  Bio-diversity, Environment

    • Importance of Biodiversity – Ecosystem Services, Social Benefits etc.
    • Reasons for Loss of Biodiversity

    Rampant poaching and mushrooming international wildlife trade fuelled by Chinese poachers, has resulted in the dwindling population of pangolins in Cameroon and other parts of the world.

  • Background

    • Also called scaly anteaters because of their preferred diet, pangolins are increasingly victims of illegal wildlife crime—mainly in Asia and in growing amounts in Africa—for their meat and scales.
    • Over one million pangolins have been hunted in the past decade, making it one of the world’s most trafficked mammals and pushing the elusive animal towards extinction.
    • They are mainly traded because of their scales.
    • Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same material that makes up fingernails, hair, and horn.
    • Pangolin scales, like rhino horn, have no proven medicinal value, yet they are used in traditional Chinese medicine to help with ailments ranging from lactation difficulties to arthritis.
    • The scales are typically dried and ground up into powder, which may be turned into a pill.
  • Analysis

    What are Pangolins?

    • Pangolins are unique mammals covered in hard scales, comprised of keratin. 
    • They are solitary and active mostly at night. Most live on the ground, but some, like the black-bellied pangolin, also climb trees.
    • They range in size from a large housecat to more than four feet long.
    • Habitat: Pangolins are found in a variety of habitats including tropical and flooded forests, thick brush, cleared and cultivated areas, and savannah grassland; in general they occur where large numbers of food (ants and termites) are found.
    • Common Name: Pangolins
    • Scientific name: Manidae
    • Diet: Insectivore
    • Size: 45 inches to 4.5 feet long
    • Weight: 4 to 72 pounds
  • What are the different species of Pangolins?

    Eight species of pangolins are found on two continents. They range from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered.

    • Four species live in Africa:
      • Black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla)
      • White-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis)
      • Giant Ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea)
      • Temminck's Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii)
    • The four species found in Asia:
      • Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata)
      • Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis)
      • Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)
      • Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla)
    • All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws, and two are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
    • The species is also listed under the Appendix I of the International Convention of Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which prohibits international commercial trade.

    Pangolins in India

    • India is home to two species of pangolin. While the Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) is found in northeastern India, the Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) is distributed in other parts of the countrys as well as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
    • Both these species are protected and are listed under the Schedule I Part I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
    • However, despite protective measures, pangolins in India are widely exploited and traded both domestically and internationally.
    • Recent efforts to save Pangolins
    • Maharashtra is set to be the first state in India to have a dedicated action plan for conservation of pangolins – the world’s most trafficked animal.
    • In 2020, Madhya Pradesh forest department radio-tagged an Indian Pangolin, for the first time.
      • The radio-tagging is part of a joint project by the department and non-profit, the Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) that also involves the species’ monitoring apart from other activities.

    World Pangolin Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in February. The day is an opportunity for pangolin enthusiasts to join together in raising awareness about these unique mammals — and their plight.

  • The declining trend in Cameroon

    • The shy, harmless pangolin is becoming increasingly well known for one reason: It’s believed to be the world’s most trafficked non-human mammal.
    • Tens of thousands of pangolins are poached every year, killed for their scales for use in traditional Chinese medicine and for their meat, a delicacy among some ultra-wealthy in China and Vietnam.
    • Cameroon hosts three species of pangolin — white-bellied, black-bellied and giant. There is one other species found in central Africa. 
    • Apart from being a source country, Cameroon serves as an international transit hub for pangolins.
    • Pangolins fall under Category A of Classified Wildlife Species in Cameroon, which fully protects themfrom hunting, exploitation and possession.
    • Cameroon is also a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora also known as CITES. The aim of CITES is to monitor international trade and conserve endangered species.
    • But in many central African countries, including Cameroon, illegal hunting and trade continue. 
    • Most of these wildlife protection laws and international agreement never translate into action on the ground, thus giving a golden opportunity to poachers and traffickers.
  • What are the impacts of the loss of pangolins?

    • Being insectivorous mammals, they feed on eggs, larvae and adults of ants and termites acting as biological pest controlling agents. The loss of pangolins could have drastic ecological and economical effects on local communities. 
    • The critically endangered species constitute a distinct taxonomic order and if they disappear, there will be nothing like them left on Earth. 
  • Suggestive measures

    • Information for effective conservation: There is also a lack of information on pangolin’s ecological behaviour including habitat preferences, home-range, average life-span, reproduction-cycle and feeding habits. This information is critical to strategically revamp on-going conservation efforts in Cameroon.
    • Promoting community-stewardship: Involving communities living around pangolin’s habitat areas could effectively steer conservation campaigns. There are several examples where hunters have turned into die-hard conservationists.
    • Employment to local: Bee-farming, pisciculture, piggery and orchard development, are few viable income-generating opportunities that should be provided to local communities.
  • Conclusion

    To stop poaching of the mammal, regular monitoring of the population trends of pangolin in their habitat areas is important. It will enable government and conservation institutions to make informed decisions about protecting the species. Furthermore, it will help in facilitating the identification and prioritisation of key sites for holistic conservation.