Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pangolin smuggling on the rise

NST Online
By : Nisha Sabanayagam

KUALA LUMPUR: The shy pangolin deters its enemies by spraying them with urine but this strategy is next to useless when it comes to saving themselves from being caught and shipped to China.

Malaysia and Indonesia are hotspots in the illegal wildlife trade in pangolin, with China as the end market.

According to conservation group Traffic Southeast Asia, pangolins make up the largest number of mammals found in confiscated illegal wildlife cargoes in the region.

The pangolin species that is traded the most is believed to be the Malayan Pangolin (Manis javanica). It is sourced from Malaysia and Indonesia, as their populations elsewhere, including in Thailand, Myanmar and China, have been decimated.

Earlier this month, 16 pangolins were seized from smugglers in Muar, Johor. In April, the Wildlife and National Parks Department seized 98 pangolins worth RM50,000 in Penang.

Traffic Southeast Asia director Azrina Abdullah said pangolins were traded for their meat which was considered a delicacy.

"Their scales are used in Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean traditional medicine.

"The scales are said to help with menstruation, breast milk circulation and sexual performance."

The scales which are made of keratin (a major component in hair, fingernails and horns) are also used to treat allergies, skin conditions and sexually transmitted diseases.

Azrina said the demand for pangolin meat and scales increased dramatically in China in the 1990s, as more people were able to afford them.

In 2002, it was estimated that there were between 50,000 and 100,000 pangolins left in the wild in China, while the domestic demand for meat and scales was estimated to be up to the equivalent of 200,000 specimens annually.

According to Traffic's surveys, in 1997 a live pangolin cost between US$120 (RM408) and US$220 per kg in China.

In Malaysia, it cost between US$25 and US$45 per kg.

Between 1998 and 2007, the Malaysian media reported 34 cases of pangolin smuggling and the confiscation of 6,000 specimens.

During the same period, it was estimated that more than 30,000 specimens were seized in Southeast Asia and East Asia, again based on cases reported in the press.

"It should be noted that not all seizures are reported in the press and seizures only represent a very small number of the specimens which were actually traded," said Azrina.

She said although there was no population estimate for the Malayan Pangolin, the number of pangolins that were seized was quite impressive and a cause for concern considering the slow reproduction rate for the species.

Females generally give birth to only one young at a time and are likely to give birth only once a year.

All pangolin species (genus Manis) are on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

CITES has established a zero annual export quota for the Malayan Pangolin, as well as the Indian, Chinese and Palawan Pangolin and for specimens removed from the wild and traded for primarily commercial purposes.

The pangolin is a nocturnal insectivore and uses its long, sticky tongue to catch ants, termites and other insects.

There are seven species of pangolins that live in grasslands and forests in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The region's pangolins, snakes and freshwater turtles are now the most intensely sought-after species, having eclipsed the trade in tiger bone, rhino horn and bear gall bladder due to the decimation of the latter species and tougher policing.

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