Kenya among key hubs of illegal trade of pangolin scales

By Caroline Chebet, Giants Club African Conservation Fellow, The Standard.

Published 3 April 2018

Kenya is among the hot spots for illegal trade in the critically endangered pangolins.

Pangolins, wild mammals popularly known as scaly ant eaters, are famous for their long sticky tongues that they use to trap and eat ants and termites. They are heavily trafficked for their scales.

Their meat and scales are said to have medicinal value. A kilo of pangolin scales fetches up to $600 (Sh60,000) on the black market.

Pangolins are classified as the most illegally trafficked animals in the world, surpassing rhino and elephant trade, according to international conservation bodies including Traffic International and International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN).

The latest report on the trafficking of wildlife released in December 2017 by Traffic International points to Kenya as one of the hubs in Africa largely involved in ‘large-quantity shipment’ of pangolin scales.

“Pangolins are currently the most heavily trafficked wild mammals in the world. Their meat is considered a delicacy, and has been attributed to have a medicinal value, their scales are used in traditional medicines, and pangolin skins are processed into leather products,” the report states.

Pangolin scales are believed to be a cure for a variety of ailments including cancer, as well as skin and liver diseases. There is no scientific proof of this.

The meat is also considered a delicacy in East Asia, with the biggest market in Vietnam and China.

Pangolins prefer burrowing in sandy soils and can be found in woodlands and savannah that are within reach of water. They are dispersed throughout southern, central, and east Africa.

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said wildlife crimes were on the rise and that punitive measure should be taken against poaching, especially for endangered species.

He added that revision of wildlife crimes should be considered to include a life sentence. In Kenya, the penalty for possession of pangolin scales is a minimum of Sh1 million and/or five years imprisonment. This can be enhanced to Sh20 million and/or 20 years in jail.

The Traffic International report says an average of 33 countries and territories are involved in international pangolin trafficking every year since 2010.

“Notably, an average of 27 new trade routes were identified each year, highlighting that wildlife trafficking occurs through a highly mobile trade network with constantly shifting trade routes,” the report states.

The seizure incidents, according to the report, involved 67 countries and territories across six continents, demonstrating the global nature of pangolin trafficking, which is not limited to Asian and African range countries.

China and the US were identified as the most common destinations for international pangolin trafficking between 2010 and 2015 while Europe was a key transit hub mostly for African pangolins being transported to Asia.

  • Read the original story here. This story is reproduced here as part of the Giants Club African Conservation Journalism Fellowships, a Space for Giants programme to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in the four countries where we work.