Each animal could cost up to $ 1000 in restaurants
The talk of the town among wildlife enthusiasts in Sri Lanka is that the pangolin is under threat! The earliest evidence relating to the existence of this animal dating back to the Pliocene and Pleistocene Epochs suggests that the pangolin has survived for a very long time. Researchers have found pangolin fossil from rocks during these periods in Cape Province, Africa. But as at today they are walking faster towards extinction. These scaly, toothless anteaters have become the world’s most trafficked species in a way that all of its eight species have been categorised as either ‘vulnerable’, ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’. World Pangolin Day falls on February 17, but the rate at which they are being trafficked across borders is quite alarming! Although pangolins have been included in the Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) prohibiting the trade of any of its parts or derivatives across borders, China and Vietnam seems to be getting a larger supply of the species from all over the world.
From 2011 through October 2013 the number of illegally trafficked pangolins lies between 100,000 and 210,000.
The widespread extinction of pangolins was mentioned on the Traffic Bulletin (April 2016, Volume 28)
In Sri Lanka, although the pangolin population is still unknown, the animal is being hunted for meat, by both locals as well as the Chinese. A
growing trend also shows that its scales are being smuggled to China. With the sudden increase in Chinese nationals in the country, earlier the street dog population in areas such as Hambantota started to dwindle and now, the pangolins. Quite interestingly, Sri Lanka is set to be one of the hosts of the CITES meeting to be held in 2019 and she would record a big win if authorities contribute in protecting the rest of the pangolins and put a stop to the illegal international trade, currently increasing in the country.
Hence, the Daily Mirror sheds light on the law which protects pangolins from being harmed or smuggled and the importance of conserving them.
Locally known as the ‘kaballawa’, the Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), is a primarily nocturnal animal easily recognized by its full armour of scales. A nationally protected species under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) only one of its eight species is found in Sri Lanka. As they live on a specialized diet of ants and termites, they often die in captivity as they are elusive and slow to breed. The eight species of pangolin contribute to a wide degree of activity. Some species prefer to be nocturnal, sleeping in a curled ball during the day. Others such as the long-tailed pangolin are more active during the day time, using their sharpened sense of smell to locate insects.
All eight species of pangolins have been listed in the Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trades in Endangered Species (CITES) giving it the highest levels of protection from commercial trade. All eight species are also classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as threatened with extinction while two of the species closest to the problem are classified as critically endangered.
Each animal could cost up to $ 1000 in restaurants
Illegal international trade
Pangolins have become the most frequently seized mammal in Asia’s illegal wildlife trade, as smugglers sell the creatures to meet culinary and medicinal demands. Pangolin meat is known to be a delicacy in China and Vietnam and according to sources, in Southern China, each animal could cost up to $ 1000 in restaurants. But most of their worth comes from their scales which are used in Chinese medicine to cure illnesses from asthma to reproductive problems and even cancer. In addition to that, pangolin fetuses and blood too are used in medicine while stuffed pangolins are sold as souvenirs. As such they are killed, skinned and frozen before being traded on the black market.
The widespread extinction of pangolins was mentioned on the Traffic Bulletin (April 2016, Volume 28) – a publication affiliated with institutional partners such as the World Wildlife Fund, IUCN and the CITES. Its special feature highlighted that African pangolins are now being smuggled to meet the demand in countries such as China and Vietnam. From 2011 through October 2013 the number of illegally trafficked pangolins lies between 100,000 and 210,000.
Restaurant manager imprisoned
When contacted, the OIC of the Kollupitiya Police Priyadarshana De Silva said that in the wake of this incident the manager of the restaurant was imposed a penalty of Rs. one lakh. “Under the Animal Cruelty Ordinance he will undergo rigorous imprisonment for three months suspended for five years. This is the first time we came across a case like this, but our teams have commenced investigations to find whether there are more cruel practices of this nature.”
“We need to be vigilant” -Gunawardena
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardena said that the pangolin is a strictly protected species. “Under Section 30 sub section 2 of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) any person who kills, harms or keeps parts of pangolins can be arrested without a warrant. It’s a non-bailable offence. We rarely see these animals and therefore the exact count of their population is unknown. Pangolin scales have an international market and unfortunately it has reached Sri Lanka as well. Since 2015 there have been reported cases where scales were smuggled out of Sri Lanka. In addition to that, the export of any part of a pangolin is prohibited under Section 40 of the FFPO. China and Middle Eastern countries are known for this trade and as such we need to be vigilant since there’s already an influx of Chinese in the country. There are newer dimensions where people are interested in tasting curious meats and the pangolin happens to be one of them. We’re trying our level best to help authorities and allow these animals to survive in the wild,” said Gunawardena.
“Pangolin scales trafficked to China” - Gunasekara
Airing his concerns to the Daily Mirror, former Deputy Director of Customs and founder of the Customs Biodiversity Protection Unit Samantha Gunasekara said that it’s illegal to retain any part of a pangolin as it is a protected species. “Therefore transportation or causing harm naturally becomes illegal under the FFPO. According to the CITES convention, the pangolin was included in the Appendix 1 among other species threatened with extinction. Therefore it essentially bans international trade of pangolins, their parts or derivatives. There’s a huge smuggling racket going on with pangolin scales and it has reached Sri Lanka as well. Over the past few years many people were caught attempting to smuggle pangolin scales out of the country.
Although it was only found at the airport or the harbour, it eventually reached the interiors of the country and pangolin scales were found in areas such as Beruwala as well. All pangolin scales are trafficked to China and with the influx of Chinese in the country, this becomes more evident. There’s a huge threat for other bio-matter such as red sandalwood, edible bird nests and wallapatta as well. Now that these scales are being caught, people crush them and smuggle, so that they cannot be identified. Since it’s a rarely seen animal its actual count is unknown. In addition to the Chinese local people also consume pangolin flesh and people sometimes rare pangolins at home. When taking all these factors into consideration, pangolins have a dwindling population in Sri Lanka and worldwide,” explained Gunasekara.
Several attempts to contact the Tong Ni BBQ restaurant and the Embassy of China proved futile.