Analytical Reporter March/April 2021

It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But that is about all pangolins can do when they are threatened by human beings. While their scales protect them from natural predators in the wild, what their scales cannot protect them from is humans, who just pick them up and carry them off. And for what? The misguided belief that pangolin scales have medical and healing properties or, equally pointless, as a luxury meat dish in China and Vietnam.
Pangolin scales are made of keratin, exactly the same thing our finger nails are made of. Keratin truly has no super powers but it’s difficult to fight against centuries of belief in both Chinese and African traditional medicine. These beliefs have led to pangolins becoming one of the most trafficked mammals in the world and all eight species are under threat. While pangolins are protected under international and local laws, the illegal trade, sadly, continues to flourish.
“Asia has killed their own pangolins and now they are coming for ours.”
That is the dooming message by Professor Ray Jansen of the African Pangolin Working Group, who is desperately trying to combat the poaching of these animals. And this is the reason why the African Pangolin Working Group was established – in order to protect and conserve pangolins here and to play a meaningful role in the capture and conviction of pangolin traffickers.
Prior to 2016, no one in South Africa had ever been sentenced to a jail term for trading in pangolins – proof that this was not seen as a high priority crime. The African Pangolin Working Group offers training for magistrates, state prosecutors and the South African Revenue Service Customs officers as to the law governing pangolins, the protection status around pangolins and the global wildlife trade pertaining to pangolins. This awareness training is vitally important as the majority of magistrates and prosecutors are unaware of the precarious position pangolins are in and the very real possibility of their extinction, directly as a result of poaching and illegal trade.
The APWG is also deeply committed to working with law enforcement on the ground involving the seizure of traded wild pangolins. They assist the South African Police Service with sting operations and assist the Environmental Management Inspectorate of the Department of Environmental Affairs with Chain-of-Custody sampling of these trafficked pangolins. And, if you follow the APWG on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AfricanPangolins/) you’ll be both saddened and impressed – saddened that there are so many pangolin smugglers out there and impressed at how regularly they are caught and arrested.
And so, the African Pangolin Working Group follows a process of retrieval, rehabilitation and release. Pangolins retrieved out of the illegal wildlife trade are all compromised, with the level of compromise varying between individuals.
The trauma is both physical and mental and often complicated by hidden conditions like pneumonia. Treatment is undertaken by the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital while rehabilitation has to take place in secret locations in order to keep the pangolins safe and secure. Once the pangolins are ready to cope on their own, they are released into the wild again.
African pangolins cannot exist in captivity and neither will they feed unless they can forage for the very specific ants and termites that they will eat. It’s of utmost importance that they are rescued quickly, treated speedily and then rehabilitated. I salute the members of the African Pangolin Working Group who have dedicated their lives and time to protecting the pangolin – the only mammal in the world with scales. It’s those scales, unfortunately, that have made it such a vulnerable species.
Let’s help the APWG protect
the pangolin.

Until next time

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