Nigeria reveals itself as the epicenter of pangolin trafficking
Since the first seizure of pangolin products in Nigeria in 2010, the country has experienced a real explosion in the black market of the trade of what is considered the most trafficked mammal in the world, becoming the nerve center for the illegal trafficking of this animal to East Asia.
The use of pangolin scales in traditional Chinese medicine had already caused the populations of Asian pangolin species to be drastically decimated over the last century. Now, however, a new study carried out by a team of researchers and conservationists led by the University of Cambridge, and whose aim was to put numbers on the illicit trafficking of this coveted mammal, has just revealed the serious threat that also looms over African variants of the species, placing Nigeria at the epicenter of a market that, far from being diminished, has been increasing in volume over the last decade.
According to the investigation, which is recently published in the specialized magazine Biological Conservation under the title The scale of Nigeria’s involvement in the trans-national illegal pangolin trade: Temporal and spatial patterns and the effectiveness of wildlife trade regulations, Only shipments intercepted and reported by the authorities between 2010 and September 2021 amounted to 190,407 kilos of pangolin scales, which are estimated to have been extracted from at least 800,000 specimens, although the figure could potentially rise to almost a million creatures euthanized, suggesting that the pangolin trade could be much higher than previously estimated.
From Africa to Asia, via Nigeria
From the operations against the trafficking of fauna and pangolin products carried out during the last decade, it is clear that Another key point on the smugglers’ routes was the Hong Kong region, Union link for shipments from African countries such as Gabon or Cameroon, bound for Asian nations such as China or Cambodia, and sometimes traveling through countries such as France and the Netherlands. However, according to researchers and conservationists, everything would have been channeled through Nigeria.
Only shipments intercepted and reported by the authorities between 2010 and September 2021 amounted to 190,407 kilos of pangolin scales
In 26 of the 77 seizures analyzed in the new study, thousands of kilos of ivory were also found to travel alongside pangolin products, indicating that Organized networks of pangolin traffickers prey on ivory smuggling connections already established for a long time.
However, despite a few successful trades, experts suggest that These seizures represent only a small percentage of all illegal wildlife trafficking – between 2% and 30% – that takes place through Nigeria, which is one more example of the country’s endemic corruption and the lax application of regulations regarding illegal wildlife trafficking, according to the researchers. In fact, in the last year, there were only a total of 4 judicial prosecutions in the country related to pangolin trafficking.
“The figures from our research suggest that the true scale of pangolin trafficking in Nigeria and in Africa as a whole has been underestimated, which could mean that policies to combat trafficking in the species are not working.” declares Charles Emogor from the Department of Zoology at Cambridge University and lead author of the research.
The most trafficked mammal in the world
The eight species of pangolin, four African and four Asian, are listed as threatened species, and three of them are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The researchers randomly sampled dozens of consignments seized at different customs offices and estimate that about 90% of the scales involved in the trade linked to Nigeria come from white-bellied pangolins, a species typical of equatorial Africa.
In addition to a false belief in the healing power of its scales, eating pangolin meat is considered a status symbol in some parts of Asia.
Among the most common African species, although still classified as vulnerable by conservation agencies, white-bellied pangolins have always been traditionally hunted and sold in local African markets, however, Researchers now fear that international trafficking is taking the slaughter of African pangolins to dangerous new heights.
“The hundreds of thousands of animals in the seized shipments suggest that lhe expansion of trafficking networks driven by demand from Asia could ultimately endanger the survival of some African pangolin species”Adds Emogor, also affiliated with a wildlife conservation society.
Nigeria, a black hole for biodiversity
While it is true that in recent years Nigeria has signed several agreements that prohibit the hunting of pangolin and the trade in its derived products, it is also true that the country itself has been involved in more incidents of illegal trafficking than any other African nation. To complete their investigation, Emogor and his colleagues reviewed the records of various national and international agencies and interviewed Nigerian intelligence and customs officials working to try to curb wildlife trafficking.
The researchers found that the average seizures linked to Nigeria increased steadily since 2010 before growing exponentially. around 2017, when Nigeria secured its place as the hub of the pangolin trade in Africa. “Although the country initially acted as a conduit, in 2019 almost all shipments originated in Nigeria,” they explain from the Emogor team.
The meat and other parts of the pangolin are illegally traded in Asian markets. Some studies have implicated the sale of the meat of this animal in the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic
Pangolin shipments were transported by both land, sea and air, but the majority of shipments, about 65%, were sent by sea, increasing maritime smuggling over the years. Some seizures also occurred in warehouses of which the mode of transport and destination were unknown, but it is very likely that they were destined for Asia.
Among the largest consignments seized, the largest were one of more than 64 kilograms destined for Vietnam, followed by another of 48 kilograms destined for China and a third of 21 kilograms destined for Hong Kong.
The researchers also note that two of the shipments intercepted this year had claws separated from scales, suggesting that traffickers are serving changing and more specific demands, such as charms made from pangolin claws in China.
Investigators call for increased law enforcement efforts and more mandatory training for Nigerian and neighboring nation customs officials, particularly at seaports. “We would like to see a greater emphasis on prosecuting detained traffickers as a deterrent measure,” adds Emogor, noting that traffickers were rarely arrested during seizures in Nigeria, and that of those who were, the majority went unpunished. .
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