Recently I was fortunate to see a great documentary about the pangolin, an extraordinary and very charismatic animal that sort of resembles a tiny T-Rex, walking upright on its back legs and covered in medieval chain mail. It also has the unfortunate distinction of being the world’s most wanted animal. When David Attenborough the naturalist, was asked which 10 animals he would save if he had an ark, the illegally trafficked pangolins were on his list. (photo – Adrian Steirn)
Normally Blue Ocean brings you stories of endangered marine life like vaquita porpoises or Blue Whales. But the plight of the pangolin just cannot be ignored. Maybe because this scaly, yet very endearing animal has touched the heart of conservationist Maria Diekmann, who adopted a baby pangolin on her farm in Namibia and brought us Honeybun’s story.
Caring for Honeybun gave Diekmann the unique opportunity to live with and study the daily habits and diet (they eat ants) of these little understood creatures. It also allowed filmmakers to document a pengolin in a way that had never been possible before. This all led Diekmann to travel to Asia where illegally trafficked pangolins are imported for their meat (considered to be a delicacy, costing hundreds of dollars per dish) and their scales which are used in traditional Chinese medicine (we’ve heard that before). In Vietnam she met fellow conservationists fighting to save the last of the Vietnamese pangolins (a similar and related species) and then on to Hong Kong where she met with Chinese celebrities doing their bit to raise public awareness of the pangolin’s plight.
High Profile Celebrities Launch Save Pangolin Campaigns
Jackie Chan the martial arts superstar urged viewers in a video campaign to say “no” to eating or using products made from pangolins. Chan joined with the young pop star “Anglebaby” who released her own video that was viewed 25 million times and used the slogan “When the buying stops the killing can too”.
Sharon Kwok, a good friend and member of the Blue Ocean community, is lending her status as former actress, environmentalist and activist to expose the illegal trafficking of wildlife in Asia and aid in the crusade to save the pangolin. Her actions have helped to place pangolins on the endangered species list. These campaigns led by high profile Chinese celebrities is pivotal in turning public opinion in China against the slaughter of Pangolins and they could not come at a more critical moment.
Illegally trafficked Pangolins destined for China
In November of 2017 Chinese authorities sized 239 bags containing 12 tons of scales taken from African pangolins. This was the largest amount ever seized and represents 20,000 to 30,000 slaughtered animals. This followed a seizure in Hong Kong in May when officials seized a shipment of seven tons of scales from Nigeria that was valued at HK$4.6 million. These police actions give you an idea of the value placed on illegally trafficked pangolins, up to $1000 for a live pangolin and $3000 per kilo of scales.
International Actions to save Pangolins
It has been estimated that approximately 1 million pangolins were killed in the last decade, resulting in the populations of some Asian countries being almost completely wiped out. Now, 182 nations that signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species have agreed to a total ban on illegally trafficked pangolins. A ban that significantly increases the penalties for traffickers. “The black market is still thriving, but obviously this helps,” says Diekmann.
Meet the “Pangolin Men” on the front lines!
Protecting highly trafficked animals, whether it be rhinos or elephants or pangolins is very dangerous work. Even though the pangolin’s scales look formidable they actually provide little protection from humans. The shy creatures have the unfortunate habit of rolling into a ball when threatened, which makes them easy pickings for poachers. These same pangolin scales, like rhino horn or elephant ivory are so lucrative on the black market that large crime syndicates have moved in bringing automatic weapons which they are not afraid to use.
The dedicated men who protect pangolins caught the attention of photographer Adrian Steirn who traveled to Zimbabwe to tell the world their story. The Tikki Hywood Trust is where Steirn found the “pangolin men”, caretakers who spend 24 hour days in one-on-one programs rehabilitating these animals so that they can eventually be returned to the wild. Steirn’s photographs beautifully capture the commitment of the “pangolin men” who risk their lives to protect these vulnerable animals.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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