Chinese Appetites Wiping Out Pangolins in Southeast Asia

SINGAPORE ~ China’s insatiable demand for pangolins is threatening the survival of the vital pest eaters in Southeast Asia and governments must do more to protect them, experts and activists warned this week.

“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,” wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC said in a report.

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

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

The solution is better enforcement of national and international laws designed to protect the animals, improved monitoring of the illegal trade and more research on existing pangolin populations, TRAFFIC said.

A spokeswoman for TRAFFIC said that no estimates of the remaining pangolin populations were available, but the report noted that they are the most frequently encountered mammals seized from illegal traders in Asia.

TRAFFIC quoted hunters and traders as saying there are so few pangolins left in forests in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos that they are now sourcing the animals from their last remaining strongholds in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Authorities seized 24 tonnes of frozen pangolins from Sumatra, Indonesia, in Vietnam in March 2008 and 14 tonnes of frozen animals in Sumatra four months later. African pangolins have also been seized in Asia, TRAFFIC said.

“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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