Pangolins have, recently, been vilified because of reports that linked them to the emergence of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes the COVID-19 disease
Pangolins are the most trafficked wild mammals in the world, with the seizure of their scales increasing tenfold between 2014 and 2018, according to a recent United Nations report.
The past few years, however, illustrate how much the wild species has been of use to mankind, for which they are trafficked across the world.
There has been a jump in pangolin seizures since 2014, said the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its World Wildlife Crime Report, released July 10, 2020.
The number of pangolin scales legally imported went from almost nil to nearly 13 tonnes between 2013 and 2017, according to UNODC’s World Wildlife Seizures database.
The meat and scales of pangolins are used for medicinal purposes in several parts of the world.
Their scales reportedly promote blood circulation and increase lactation in pregnant women, while their meat is used as a tonic.
They are also used for medicinal purposes in Africa: There is widespread trade of pangolin parts in Nigeria to treat several physical and psychological conditions.
The use of pangolin products in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a number of ailments is well known as well.
China accounted for 99 per cent of the legal trade in pangolin scales, according to the report.
Nineteen countries have declared pangolin scale stockpiles to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Uganda act as transit countries and logistical hubs for pangolin and wildlife trafficking, the report said.
Nigeria was the primary point of export of pangolin shipments in 2019, while Vietnam emerged as the primary destination, the report pointed out.
The Chinese government seized 23 tonnes of pangolin scales in a series of operations across the country in October 2019. The seized shipments were from Nigeria via South Korea.
The threat that wildlife trafficking posed to nature and biodiversity was also cited by the report. It outlined how trafficking of wild species, their butchering and subsequent illegal sale increased the transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals to humans.
Zoonotic diseases represent up to 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases. This included SARS-CoV-2, the report said.
There is a need for stronger criminal justice systems and improved international cooperation along with cross-border investigations, the report suggested.
“Transnational organised crime networks reap the profits of wildlife crime, but it is the poor who pay the price,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly.
“To protect people in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and to build back better from the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot afford to ignore wildlife crime,” she said.
The report can help keep this threat high on the international agenda and increase support for governments to adopt necessary legislation and develop inter-agency coordination to tackle wildlife crime offences, Waly said.
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