Pangolins, the world’s most trafficked wild mammals, are about to get a boost.
IFAW and other like-minded groups are meeting in Washington DC this week to work out the next steps for pangolin conservation in Africa. The African Pangolin Conservation Strategy Workshop will be an intense three-day gathering of African pangolin experts, scientists, and policy mavens who are dedicated to stopping the poaching and illegal trade of these animals.
Because of the CITES Conference of Parties actions last fall, all eight pangolin species have been legally protected from international commercial trade. But that hasn’t stopped traffickers and poachers from sending thousands of pounds of pangolin scales that represent tens of thousands of poached pangolins from range countries in Africa to consumer countries in Asia. Many are caught, but despite seizures by customs officials, pangolins continue to be killed by the hundreds and the scales keep coming in.
Part of the problem is that in most countries where pangolins live, the enforcement of pangolin laws is seriously lacking. Poachers and traffickers alike are frequently released with just a slap on the wrist. Without proper enforcement and prosecution, there is little to deter poachers from taking pangolins.
Meet the woman who is trying to change that.
Lisa Hywood is the President and founder of Tikki Hywood Trust (THT), based in Zimbabwe. THT rescues and rehabilitates wild animals like pangolins. She is also leading the charge in her country to make sure pangolin poachers and traffickers are convicted for their crimes, as it is essential to have real and damning consequences in order to stop any kind of wildlife trade. Thanks to her and her partnership with the government, Zimbabwe now leads all African countries in arrests and convictions of pangolin poachers over the last three years.
Before the workshop began, I sat down with Lisa and asked her a few questions about her work.
How did you first get into working with pangolins, and what makes them so special?
Hywood: I chose the pangolin as our logo in 1994 in honor of my late father. In Zimbabwe, pangolins are revered and it is only a chief that can receive a pangolin and decide the fate of that pangolin. My father was my chief and so I thought it only right to choose the pangolin. Why are pangolins so special? There is not another living mammal that is anything like a pangolin. They are unique, have an incredibly unusual dietary requirement, and are perhaps the wisest animal I have ever worked with.
Why are pangolins the “most trafficked wild mammal in the world?”
It is due to both Chinese traditional medicine (scales) and the African bushmeat trade. Pangolin meat in Asia has become a delicacy with affluent businessmen using pangolin meat as a dish to celebrate a successful trade/ business deal.
Tell me about Tikki Hywood Trust. What are you doing to help pangolins?
The THT has been working with pangolins for the past 24 years. We have established a rescue, rehabilitation, and release program together with the legislature and judiciary in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has prosecuted more pangolin poachers than any other African country in the last three years. In 2016, 114 pangolin poachers were arrested and of that, 52 were convicted to nine years in jail. The THT will continue to work with other groups and range states in the hopes of bringing the plight of the pangolin to the fore in each country and providing a safe haven for those pangolins that are rescued.
What more needs to be done if we are to make sure there are wild pangolins for future generations?
The most important thing that needs to happen now is for all governments to join in and become aware of the plight of this animal. We must make sure that each range state has the correct legislation protecting pangolin and then, most importantly, this legislation is enforced by the necessary authorities. Everyone can assist with bringing awareness about the pangolin and how we need to save wild spaces so that this species can continue to live wild and free.
This interview has been edited for clarity. –The eds.
Article source: IFAW