2022 World Wildlife Day: Pangolins becoming next after report shows no surviving Cheetahs, Rhinos, Giraffes exist in Nigeria

By Nneka Nwogwugwu

Pangolins, sometimes known as scaly anteaters are mammals of the order ‘Pholidota’, they have large, protective keratin scales, similar in material to fingernails and toenails, covering their skin and they are the only known mammals with this feature.

They live in hollow trees or burrows, depending on the species, they are nocturnal and their diet consists of mainly ants and termites, which they capture using their long tongues. Pangolins are threatened by poaching (for their meat and scales) which are used in traditional medicine and they are the most trafficked mammals in Africa and Asia.

Pangolins are in high demand in countries like China and Vietnam and their meat is considered a delicacy. All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws but there is still growing international illegal trade in pangolins.

Based on reported seizures between 2011 and 2013, an estimated 116,990-233,980 pangolins were killed, which represents only the tip of the trade.

In Nigeria, a research by Forensic Science International found out that Lagos plays a crucial role in pangolin shipments to Asia.

According to Stephen Aina of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Pangolins are more prevalent in the Middle-Belt and South-West because both regions have a higher concentration of termites — the primary food for pangolins.

“We have confirmed a high number of pangolin presence in Middle-Belt states like Kogi, Kwara, Benue, Niger and Taraba, where Nigeria’s largest national park Gashaka-Gumti is situated,” Mr Aina said.

“In the South-West, they are regularly cited in Omo Forest Reserve, Ogun State; Oluwa Forest Reserve, Ondo State; and Old Oyo Forest Reserve in Oyo State.”

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has recognized Nigeria as the number one country in illegal pangolin trade and seizures.

“We found out that pangolin scales were illegally transported from Omo Forest Reserve to Ifo, near Lagos, where they were seized,” Mr Aina said. “But it came as a shock to us when we later learnt that the scales were returned to illicit traders who then shipped them overseas.”

This was the same case for Cheetahs, Rhinos and Giraffes, which are no longer existing in Nigeria. Presently, WildAid, a non-government organization, stated that Nigeria has no surviving cheetahs, rhinos or giraffes, and fewer than 50 lions, 100 gorillas, 500 elephants and 2,300 chimpanzees left in the wild.

Despite ongoing conservation efforts, poaching for body parts and meat along with habitat loss from deforestation, infrastructure development, and agricultural expansion threaten wildlife in Nigeria.

Nigeria has emerged as the top transit point in the world for illegal ivory and pangolin scales trafficked from Africa to Asia. Between 2016 – 2019, over half of the pangolin scales seized globally came from Nigeria.

The gradual extinction of pangolins have raised the concerns of conservationists in Nigeria. As the world marks World Wildlife Day on March 3, the call to strengthen awareness for Pangolins conservation should be emphasized.

WildAid in January, launched a massive public awareness conservation campaign in Nigeria to reduce demand for illegal bushmeat in major urban centers, support enforcement activities to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and raise awareness of disappearing wildlife using the slogans “Keep them wild, keep us safe” and “Poaching steals from us all.”

The campaign includes TV public service announcements (PSAs), billboards, social media campaigns, radio and TV series with ambassadors from music, Nollywood, sports, religion, and entertainment. Developed in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and other government agencies, the campaign stars Afrobeats artists Davido and Mayorkun, Everton FC and Nigeria footballer Alex Iwobi, Nollywood star Stephanie Linus, comedians Emanuella and Josh2Funny, Mercy Jessica Odjugo (Miss Tourism Nigeria) and religious leaders from the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC). International stars, including Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Djimon Hounsou, Jackie Chan and Kung Fu Panda will also be featured in the campaign.

There are also messages from public figures such as Sharon Ikeazor, Nigeria’s Federal Minister of State for Environment, Prof. Akin Abayomi, the Honourable Commissioner for Health of Lagos State and Ben Murray-Bruce, businessman and former Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2015-2019).

The Minister of State for Environment, Barr. Sharon Ikeazor said, “The Federal Government of Nigeria is committed to protecting, restoring, and promoting sustainable use of our biodiversity. We will support the sustainable management of forests, combat desertification, land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss. Our collaboration with relevant Agencies and Stakeholders to stem the tide of wildlife overexploitation and trafficking has led to the development and implementation of strategies to combat corruption risk associated with transnational organized wildlife crime.”

To raise more awareness, World Pangolin Day is marked on February 19 to raise awareness about the unique mammals and speed up conservation efforts.

In ensuring this, WildAid mapped out three ways one can support the campaign to protect pangolins:
1.Say NO to pangolin meat
2.Join 11-year-old comedienne Emanuella to say NO to illegal bushmeat from pangolins and other protected animals
3.Win a private safari with WildAid and People’s Weather channel, which is only open to South Africans.

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