July 14, 2009

China’s Consumption Of Pangolins Drives Them To Endangerment

The Chinese have an incredible appetite for the pest-eating pangolins of Southeast Asia - to the point of driving them to endangerment.

Activists are now urging the government to do more to ensure their protection.

Wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC said in a report, "Due to continual demand and the decreasing Chinese wild population, in the past few years pangolin smuggling from Southeast Asia has resulted in great declines in these producing countries' wild populations."

The name "pangolin" is derived from the Malay word pengguling ("something that rolls up"). They are nocturnal animals that use their well-developed sense of smell to find insects.

"China has a long history of consuming pangolin as meat and in traditional medicine," TRAFFIC said. The animals are toothless, scaly mammals that provide natural pest control in the wild by eating ants and termites.

Chris Shepherd, Acting Director for TRAFFIC Southeast Asia went on to explain, "Pangolin populations clearly cannot stand the incessant poaching pressure, which can only be stopped by decisive government-backed enforcement action in the region."

TRAFFIC believes that the answer to the growing problem is to better enforce national and international laws that are in place to protect the animals, improve monitoring of the illegal trade and increase the research on remaining populations of pangolin.

No estimates of the remaining pangolin populations were available, a spokeswoman for TRAFFIC told AFP, but the report mentioned that they are the most frequently encountered mammals confiscated in Asia from illegal traders.

Hunters and traders were quoted as saying there are so few pangolins left in forests in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos that they are now seeking out the animals from the remnants in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Twenty-four tons of frozen pangolins were seized by authorities from Sumatra, Indonesia, in Vietnam in March 2008 followed by 14 tons of frozen animals in Sumatra four months later. TRAFFIC said African pangolins have also been seized in Asia.

"Pangolins save us millions of dollars a year in pest destruction," said Simon Stuart, who chairs the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

"These shy creatures provide a vital service and we cannot afford to overlook their ecological role as natural controllers of termites and ants."


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