The Pangolin holds the undesired title of being the most poached and illegally trafficked mammal in the world. It is estimated that since 2000 more than one million pangolins have been traded illegally internationally.
The African Pangolin Working Group recently published a report which shows the shocking increase in illegal trade of Pangolins across Africa. According to their reports 21 kg of Pangolin scales were traded in 2011, rising exponentially to 46,809 kg in 2017. The last 12 months has seen an alarming increase of more than 100% in the illegal trade in scales from 19599 kg in 2016 to current levels.
The Ichikowitz Family Foundation, which has a strong track record of conservation leadership within Africa, will provide the African Pangolin Working Group with the following critical support as part of their partnership to bolster the efforts to save Pangolins from extinction:
Ivor Ichikowitz, Chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation said: “We are extremely excited and privileged to expand our conservation programmes through our partnership with the African Pangolin Working Group. Poaching in Africa is no longer just a conservation issue. It is a security issue that threatens the stability and social fabric of the continent. Just as illegal trade in rhino horn and ivory are funding criminal activities from terrorism, to drug and human trafficking, the rapidly increasing illegal trade in Pangolins poses a significant threat to Africa’s security. We cannot idly standby and allow this to happen.”
Professor Ray Jansen of Tshwane University of Technology, a leading Zoologist and Pangolin expert who is also the Chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group said: “Africa has very recently become a hot-spot for the poaching and trade in its four Pangolin species as the four species in Asia have dwindled to such an extent they are very hard and almost impossible to source.
“Pangolin scales are used as a powdered ingredient in over 50 different commercial traditional Chinese remedies. The demand for these scales has reached epic proportions and this year alone we have noted 45 tonnes of scales being shipped to Asia; this represents approximately 10% of the actual trade that remains undetected.”
Eric Ichikowitz, Director of the Ichikowitz Foundation said: “We are training a number of Pangolin detection dogs that are uniquely trained on the scent of these scales and the body odour of Pangolins in an attempt to intercept these smuggling operations. These dogs have the capability of not only detecting Pangolins but also very small quantities of scales stored or hidden in vehicles, buildings or shipping containers.
“In addition to the training and deployment of these dogs, our partnership will also construct a Pangolarium; a facility to house, care and rehabilitate compromised Pangolins intercepted from the illegal trade. This structure provides a base for these Pangolins where they will receive medical care and undergo a rehabilitation programme until they are strong enough to be released again.”
Commenting on the need for a Pangalorium, Professor Jansen said: “The Pangalorium will provide a safe haven from where Pangolins will be re-introduced back into the wild. Most animals arrive in a very poor state of health when they are brought to us. Many are caught in snares with horrific wounds and injuries. Electric fences are another source of the death and injuries. The Pangolins which are intercepted are experiencing high stress levels and they don’t eat or drink easily. They have challenging dietary requirements that are very specific e.g. they only eat termites from a specific region or area. We will also provide the Pangolins with telemetry equipment when they are healthy and ready to be released, so that we can monitor them closely during this period.”
The vast majority of Pangolin trade from Africa emanates from West and Central Africa. Countries that have been identified as hot spots include Uganda, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Cameroon. The bulk of the trade in Southern Africa and South Africa is not in scales but in live Temminck’s ground pangolins.
Eric Ichikowitz added: “It is near impossible to find Pangolins in the wild. In addition to intercepting smuggling operations, the dogs that we are training will also be deployed to physically track down Pangolins in the wild for research and monitoring purposes. The dogs will play a crucial role in helping to collect critical data for the researchers, from the size of the pangolin’s territory, their dietary requirements and behavioral patterns.
“Another area where we will be assisting the African Pangolin Working Group is around the breeding biology of Pangolins which remain largely unrecorded. In order to assist in this particular field of research our Foundation will be making available a safe piece of land where the researchers are going to release a pair of Pangolins in the hope that they will breed.”
The Ichikowitz Family Foundation’s other anti-poaching initiatives include the donation of surveillance aircraft to national parks, the provision of combat training programmes to strengthen the capabilities of counter-poaching units, and the creation of one of the largest Anti-Poaching and K9 Training Academy’s in Africa, based in South Africa’s Magaliesberg mountains.
The Academy has been established to provide comprehensive training solutions to assist in curbing the current surge in poaching of endangered species across the continent. These solutions include specialised anti-poaching reaction unit training, training of handlers and detection dogs at points of access to game reserves and borders, tracking dogs for field rangers, and training special operation dogs for rapid deployment teams, among others.