The rise in smuggling of pangolins has resulted in an 80-percent global decline of the unique creatures’ population the past 20 years.
In Malawi, pangolins continue finding themselves in smuggling syndicates which apparently respond to the demand for the creature’s products in some Asian countries.
Thus, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in partnership with the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) is fighting to protect the scale-covered mammal which risks going extinct in few years.
“Pangolins save us millions of dollars a year in pest destruction. These shy creatures provide a vital service and we cannot afford to overlook their ecological role as natural controllers of termites and ants,” says LWT communications manager, Samantha Namputha.
With trade in Asia’s pangolin species declining as they become harder to find, traffickers are reportedly rushing to Africa with the continent’s western and central zones becoming major hubs.
Malawi has been caught up in pangolin smuggling matters, too.
According to Namputha, if the creatures went extinct, there would be a huge impact on the environment.
The only scaled mammal in the world, notoriously invisible in the wild, has humans as its largest threat and, according to environmentalists, needs extra attention if it has to remain in existence.
“Some people believe pangolin scales can be used for spiritual protection, money rituals and fortification against witchcraft. These are mere superstitions and have nothing to do with this good animal,” Namputha says.
At a recent media workshop, experts reiterated that the pangolin, the world’s most trafficked non-human mammal, is crucial in the food chain and web particularly because it reduces the number of pests during the growing season.
They also urged journalists to consistently report on pangolin smuggling and its implications.
Parks and Wildlife Officer, Patrick Chinguwo, says the rapid decline in the population of pangolins and evidence of massive smuggling prompted the government to strengthen laws that project wildlife.
“Anyone found in illegal possession of the mammal gets a maximum of 30 years imprisonment. There is a special team that investigates such cases,” Chinguwo says.
He further states that the department keeps briefing people about misconceptions surrounding pangolins and going hard on those found marketing the animal whose trade is banned internationally.
Apparently, as of 2020, 90 percent of the trafficked pangolins in Malawi were rescued alive and released into the wild.
“We will not rest until this trade is completely out of Malawi. It is impressive that well-wishers tip us when they see someone offering a pangolin for sale,” Chinguwo says.
On his part, president of the Association of Environmental Journalists, Mathews Malata, appeals to the scribes to continue reporting massively about pangolins.
Malata believes journalists are doing a good job “and can do more since smuggling sometimes comes in sophisticated ways which all need to be exposed”.
Additionally, according to Malata, if people sufficiently appreciate the ecological significance of pangolins, they will be more interested in protecting them.
“It is important for journalists to present correct information regarding pangolins and their smuggling. We relay information to the public and have the responsibility of ensuring the public is well informed about protecting wildlife,” Malata says.
He believes extra care further needs to be applied in reporting pangolin trafficking since creatures are apparently ending up in a particular region.
“We must be sensitive in our reporting. We must also begin to dig deeper into the syndicates and investigate how they operate.
“More and accurate information about why some people are interested in the animals and where the market actually is could help in curbing their smuggling,” Malata says.