Ugandan police seize 115 kilograms of pangolin scales and arrest one suspect.
According to Ugandan publication, New Vision, the alleged wildlife trader — James Busanani — told authorities that he regularly exports pangolin scales to China.
As pangolins’ scales make up about 20% of their body weight, the haul could represent as many as over 200 scaly anteaters (depending on which species it was comprised of).
Chinese nationals encouraging black market pangolin trade
The suspect reportedly said he sources the scales from numerous suppliers from many different areas and was intercepted by officials whilst en route to meet with clients.
The Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) says Chinese nationals in Uganda have been increasingly involved in the nation’s growing illegal pangolin trade.
“Informers have mentioned that some Chinese in Uganda are busy buying the pangolin scales and shipping them to Asia,” Nsubuga stated.
The UWA spokesperson also said that the agency is launching an “aggressive” campaign to combat the illicit slaughter and trade of the insectivorous mammals and will do so “by cutting off the ready market provided by the Chinese nationals.
In May, authorities arrested a student in illegal possession of four kilograms of pangolin scales, as well as numerous pieces of ivory from hippos and elephants — another hot “commodity” in China.
At that time, The Independent reported that wildlife traffickers in Uganda typically receive quite lenient punishments — a mere three months imprisonment or a Shs 1 million (US $400) fine.
African pangolins under threat
Black markets in East and Southeast Asia are now targeting the pangolins of Africa, as populations of Asian species have been severely reduced by illicit trade.
Although the scaly anteaters have traditionally been hunted as a protein source and for local superstition-steeped cultural uses throughout their African ranges, this market is now clearly being exploited by East Asian consumers.
There are four species of pangolin living across Africa:
- Three-cusped pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) — ‘Near Threatened’
- Giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) — ‘Near Threatened’
- Long-tailed pangolin (Uromanis tetradactyla) — ‘Least Concern’
- Cape pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) — ‘Least Concern’
Pangolin crisis worsens
Demand for these animals stems primarily from China and Vietnam, where their flesh is consumed both as a delicacy and for perceived health benefits.
Other pangolin body parts — especially their scales — are used to make ‘cure-all’ traditional Chinese medicines.
However, there is no scientific evidence to support any of the medicinal claims made about the scaly anteaters.
In fact, their highly coveted scales are comprised mainly of keratin — the same protein that makes up rhino horn and human hair and nails.
Laboratory studies have repeatedly found rhino horn to be void of any curative medicinal properties, which could suggest the same is also true for pangolin scales.
It’s believed that lucrative ‘medicinal use’ pangolin farms in China have accelerated the plight of the pangolins by stimulating demand for their body parts.
Author: Sarah Pappin. Read more about Sarah here.
Image by Valerius Tygart (own work) via Wikimedia Commons