Indonesia: Pangolins thrown a lifeline to save them from extinction

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 8 Nov 16;

Pangolins, the world’s most illegally trafficked mammal, have been given a lifeline after the implementation of a ban on trading them internationally.

Pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters due to their appearance, long tongues and diet of ants and termites, are one of the planet’s most unique species, so much so that they have a mammal order to themselves, Pholidota.

The species even inspired a popular Pokemon character, Sandslash.

The animal’s uniqueness unfortunately has prompted humans to hunt them. More than a million wild pangolins have been killed in the last decade to feed the rising appetite in China and Vietnam for its meat and scales, used in traditional medicine and to make fashion items, such as shoes.

Pangolins also suffer from their relative obscurity compared to more well-known endangered species, like orangutans and polar bears.

“The trade of pangolins is so rampant now that it threatens the pangolin population,” WWF Indonesia conservation director Arnold Sitompul said.

Many pangolins being trafficked are from Indonesia, the home to one of eight species of pangolins, called Sunda Pangolin.

In July 2015, Indonesian officials in Surabaya, East Java, seized 1.3 tons of frozen pangolin bound for Singapore.

Animal rights activists have also found that pangolin trade has moved online.

“Based on our data, there were 106 online postings for pangolin sales on social media from January to October in Indonesia this year,” Arnold said.

One pangolin could sell for up to Rp 2 million (US$152) and the value of pangolins being illegally traded this year reached Rp 2 billion.

Increased consumption of pangolins has driven the species to scarcity in Asia, with four Asian species of pangolin, Indian, Philippine, Sunda and Chinese, having been decimated by illegal poaching.

Conservation efforts have been unfruitful as the animals breed slowly and are easy to catch as they simply roll up when threatened.

In September, 182 countries of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) unanimously agreed to impose a ban on international trade for all pangolin species at a global wildlife summit in Johannesburg in September.

Pangolins’ status was also upgraded from CITES appendix II to appendix I, the strictest protection possible.

Initially, Indonesia was the first country to oppose the ban, saying that it would actually harm the country’s attempt to save pangolins from extinction.

“Indonesia thinks upgrading pangolins to appendix I could discourage the public’s participation in breeding the species,” the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s spokesman, Novrizal Tahar, said.

Furthermore, an upgrading of status to appendix I would not be effective without an improvement in regulations and law enforcement in source countries, transit countries and consumer countries, he said.

The Indonesian government has made efforts to conserve pangolins by breeding the animal in a conservation area in Probolinggo, East Java, which so far has succeeded in spawning eight pangolins.

The government initially hoped the pangolins from the conservation area could be legally traded to other countries, but the recent ban will not permit that.

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