Poaching: Ground Pangolin Almost As Affected As Rhino

17 Aug 2023

Its natural protection is also its greatest mortal danger: the armour of the pangolin, which consists of scaly horn plates. This is because the scales are considered a remedy in Asia, similar to the horn of the rhinoceros. Although scientists have not found any medicinal effect in either case. 

The rapid curling up does help effectively against predators. However, this behaviour proves to be a fatal mistake against humans. By the way, not only in the case of poachers. The small ant- and termite-eating mammals also fall victim to cars time and again. 


Fatal mistake in an encounter with humans: pangolins curl up when in danger - relying on the protection of their scale armour.  Photo: Tikki Hywood Trust, Wikipedia 


This became clear at a talk on the ground pangolin recently given by US biologist Kelsey Prediger of the Pangolin Conservation and Research Foundation (PCRF) in Windhoek. Another danger is posed by electric farm fences. On average, there is one death per year for every 11 km of fence. A natural killer is drought. In the 2019 drought, according to Preacher, about half of the animals in her monitoring area in Namibia at the time died. Added to this are shrinking habitats, as with all wildlife. 

But the biggest threat is poaching. Few know that the ground pangolin is almost as affected as the rhino. According to the official report, twelve live and 28 dead pangolins and 873 pangolin skins were confiscated in Namibia in 2022 (see report in the Namibian newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung, in German only). 57 people were arrested and eleven convicted. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. 

High black market prices for pangolins 

Pangolins are also sought after by some of Namibia's ethnic groups. This was the result of a study by PCRF staff member Tobias Kambongi. He had interviewed 54 people from different communal areas for this purpose. In some communities, the animal's scales are regarded as protection against "bad winds", as a cure for heart disease or as a love charm. 

Bushmen, on the other hand, see pangolins as a good omen for impending rain. Incidentally, many of the respondents did not know that the pangolin is protected. Kambongi's conclusion: self-consumption is limited and could be further curbed by an education campaign. 

Tobias Kambongi and Kelsey Prediger from the Pangolin Conservation and Research Foundation (PCRF). 
Photo: Sven-Eric Stender 


The lion's share of the poaching, however, is due to international syndicates paying astronomically high prices. In 2020, according to a report in the New Era newspaper, a pangolin skin was traded on the black market for N$ 50,000 (about 2,400 Euros; conversion at current exchange rates here). A live animal was even worth N$ 150,000 (just under 7,200 Euros; current conversion rate here). 

The extent of the illegal trade in pangolin products is not known. According to a report in the Namibian Allgemeine Zeitung, DNA data is now collected that can be used to determine areas of origin and reconstruct trade routes. 

Pangolin trade banned since 2017 

Worldwide, there are still eight species of pangolins (see article on Wikipedia), four in Asia and four in Africa. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has banned trade in products of all eight pangolin species as of 2017 (see CITES document). The ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) was added to the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and classified as vulnerable

The PCRF wants to contribute to the protection and research of the ground pangolin. It is currently building a research centre in the Nyae Nyae communal sanctuary near Tsumkwe in north-eastern Namibia (see PCRF Facebook post). The grand opening is planned for the beginning of October. 

Sven-Eric Stender 

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