Cash reward for information leading to capture and conviction of wildlife criminals
What used to be a gift for African royalty has now become a critically endangered mammal due to the Chinese propensity for believing nonsense about the supposed muti value of certain animals.
The animal in question is the elusive pangolin or scaly anteater. Not to be confused with the much larger antbear or aardvark, the pangolin is covered in scales from its ears down the entire length of its body to the tip of its tail. These scales, essentially modified hair consisting only of keratin, are what the Chinese are after believing it will boost their libido, and cure all sorts of other ailments people from primitive societies succumb to as a result of superstition.
Namibian farmers and farm workers tell many tales of how they have been approached by Chinese nationals residing in Namibia to buy live pangolins or pangolin skins. This is not thumbsuck or hearsay, the Economist has received several eyewitness accounts from farm workers who have been offered cash for pangolins, and that only in the past year.
The Namibian Chamber of Environment, noticing a disturbing explosion in the number of criminals looking for pangolins, stated earlier this week “In recent months there has been a marked increase in the illegal capture, killing and trade in pangolins in Namibia for the international markets in Asia.”
Chamber Chief Executive, Dr Chris Brown said “In response to the growing pressure on pangolins, the Namibian Chamber of Environment has embarked on an outreach initiative to inform Namibians about the precarious status of this animal and to ask everyone to help put a stop to the illegal trade. We need a collective national effort to tackle the problem of incentivised illegal trade of pangolins to Asia.”
Explaining the Asian demand for pangolin products and derivatives, the Chamber stated “Pangolins are believed to be the most trafficked mammals in the world. The biggest demand for pangolins is in Asia, especially China. The main reason is that the scales, made of keratin like our finger nails, hair and rhino horns, are used in traditional Asian medicines and for ornaments and charms. The scales have no medicinal properties. It is an Asian myth that causes huge environmental damage and threatens the survival of these species. Pangolin meat is also sold at high prices in Asian restaurants.”
Pangolins are fairly easy to track but notoriously difficult to find. The scales on the sides of their tails make a distinctive pattern in the ground as they walk, almost like the fingers of an open hand scratching the sand. These tracks usually indicate the presence of a pangolin as it meanders from anthill to anthill but once it has disappeared down a burrow, it is almost impossible to extract except by digging up the whole tunnel. By offering staggering prices for live pangolins, Chinese buyers are hoping to convince farm workers to go to the trouble of catching the animals for them.
As part of its campaign to stop the demise of the Namibian pangolin, the chamber offers a cash reward for information leading to the arrest of people catching, killing and trading in pangolins and for information leading to the seizure of pangolins or pangolin parts and products.
Also involved in this initiative are the Ministry of Environment & Tourism, Namibia’s communal conservancies and their NGO support organisations under NACSO, and the World Wildlife Fund. The Chamber has produced a poster to be distributed widely across Namibia, and many thousands of mini-posters, the size of a business card, for even wider distribution.
“Wildlife crime is an economic and an environmental crime against local communities and against the nation. We ask all Namibians to please help us keep pangolins alive in Namibia, where they belong and where they provide many important ecological services, not dead in Asia where they are of no value to anyone except criminal syndicates,” said Dr Brown.
Incidents can be reported telephonically or by SMS to 081 413 2214 or 081 423 2231, 24/7. All information provided will be treated in the strictest confidence.