It’s quite well-documented these days that pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world. But a new report has revealed the number of the creatures being trafficked (and most likely killed) has been woefully underestimated.
The new study, by an international team led by the University of Sussex, UK, is the first to show comprehensive local pangolin data in Central Africa. Because pangolins are shy, nocturnal, forest-dwelling creatures it has been difficult in the past to get an accurate idea of their population numbers and annual harvest figures. Now we've got an idea. The results are published in the journal Conservation Letters.
According to the report, the number of pangolins killed has increased a whopping 150 percent over the last 45 years. Conservstive estimates had suggested that around 400,000 of the animals were killed annually. Incredibly, this study found the number could actually be up to 2.7 million.
Pangolins are wonderfully improbable and scaly little creatures that are trafficked for their use in “traditional medicine”. Using local researchers on the ground, the researchers visited locally-known hunting sites and bushmeat markets in 113 sites across 14 countries in Central Africa, including Cameroon, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic to collect their data.
They found that the trade of African pangolins to Asia is on the increase, as Asian pangolin numbers – the only other place pangolins are found – have decreased so dramatically in recent years. Also, nearly half the animals killed are juveniles, which is devastating to the population as they are slow-breeding and only produce one pup every couple of years.
Their data also showed that the urban market prices of the giant pangolin and the arboreal (tree-dwelling) pangolin, which are both protected, have increased 5.8 and 2.3 times respectively since the 1990s. And despite being illegal in most Central African countries, snares are being used in many of the forests to capture them.
Whether or not the Central African countries are aware of the extent to which the animals are being hunted, killed, and trafficked is not clear, but the researchers are calling on the governments across the continent to enforce international trade bans, increase protections, and ramp up punishments, before they are lost forever.
“Compared to other species, relatively little is known about African pangolins, only gaining international attention in recent years,” explained lead author Daniel Ingram in a statement. “With hunting increasing, it is crucial we investigate how this links to the illegal wildlife trade. The engagement of governments and local people will be critical to the conservation of African pangolins.”