Conservationists raise alarm over record shipment of pangolin scales trafficked from Nigeria

Conservationists have raised the alarm over the scale of pangolin trafficking taking place, even as Customs authorities in Singapore intercepted record shipments of 12.9 tonnes and 12.7 tonnes of pangolin scales from Nigeria, totalling 25.6 tonnes in one week.

The 12.9 tonnes seizure on April 3, the biggest of its kind globally in five years, was said to have cost the lives of about 17,000 pangolins.

The second 12.7 tonnes seizure was said to be from scales of about 21,000 pangolins of two species. “The container was declared to have contained cassia seeds,” Singapore’s National Parks Board, Customs and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said in a joint statement, adding that the shipment came from Nigeria.

The pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal.

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In a statement, Dr Olajumoke Morenikeji, Chair, Pangolin Conservation Guild Nigeria, also known as Pangolin Conservation Working Group Nigeria (PCWGN) said, “This kind of trafficking episodes have continued to precipitate concerns from conservationists all around the world, especially for a species like the pangolin of which relatively very little is known of their biology and ecological roles and functions.

“We have witnessed a sharp rise in the last 10 years of the trade of pangolins and their parts from Africa to markets in Asia, mostly China and Vietnam.

“The scale of this trade is escalating and mounting enormous pressure on the population of pangolins that may be left in Africa, a figure that no one at present has any idea.

“The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorised all four African species as vulnerable, while in 2016, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) up listed all eight species in the world to Appendix 1 to prohibit trade and afford some form of protection. The CITES decision in effect has resulted into many shipments been discovered, but it has often not nabbed the suspects involved in this trade network.”

The group bemoaned the possibility of Nigeria being used as a trafficking route.

“What remains unclear about this present illegal trade discovery and in fact the more recent ones that have been claimed to originate from Nigeria is if the country has such population left of pangolins to make that volume of scales.

“According to the Minister for Environment, Nigeria cannot have a population of pangolins large enough to produce the quantity of scales often quoted, so it is possible that other African countries are only making use of Nigeria as a pangolin trade route. This in essence in itself implicates Nigeria as a country with porous borders and customs scrutiny.”

It called for a survey to assess what may be left of pangolin population in Nigeria. The body added that if the current rate of exploitation goes on unchecked, pangolin may go extinct.

“This is a fate we can prevent by working cohesively, and PCWGN is using this opportunity to appeal to the Nigerian presidency in particular and every other stakeholder in order to save pangolins.”

It suggested  tighter border surveillance, equipping, training and empowering of enforcement agents to arrest and prosecute wildlife criminals.

The group said it is planning a rescue and rehabilitation centre for the pangolins in Nigeria and called for public support for this project.v