By Samuel Ogundipe
What is Nigeria’s role in the illicit trade of pangolins?
Nigeria has become the number-one country in the world in the illegal pangolin trade since 2016 when the last Conference of Parties to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) was held in South Africa. Nigeria is the nation most responsible for the illicit movement of these precious mammals — with the highest number of both internal seizures and foreign interceptions — according to expert analysis of reported cases from 2017 to early 2019.
It is believed that all African pangolins — the ground, giant, white-bellied, and black-bellied pangolins — are found in Nigeria, although some have a larger presence than others. In the past, they were hunted by rural dwellers for food. At least six villagers in southwest Nigeria admitted that pangolin meat is delicious when soaked in pepper sauce.
Up until recently, middle- and upper-class Nigerians were the major purchasers of pangolins, which they used to prepare rich cuisine. The elite’s insatiable appetite for pangolin was facilitated by the construction of interstate highways. Local hunters, fresh from overnight game expeditions in the forests along the highways, would stand by the roadside with pangolins for sale; they were almost always sold out.
Now thanks to 21st-century global commerce, the pangolins trade has shot through the roof. Local hunters now realise that selling poached pangolin to foreign trafficking networks earns many times more than selling to a Lagos-based businessman buying it for its delicacy.
How big is the estimated pangolin population? How many have been seized in recent years?
Reliable statistics about the Nigerian pangolin population were unavailable as of April 2019, but the sheer volume of illicit trade of the mammals in and out of the country means it is massive, perhaps than most countries where they are found.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently marked Nigeria as likely the largest hub of the illicit pangolin trade and decried recent seizures as unprecedented size in recorded history. The UNODC found that, over the past 12 months, 25 tonnes of ivory and pangolin scales which were seized in Asia originated from Nigeria, while 13 tons of pangolin scales were seized in Nigeria.
This marked a sharp increase from the almost eight tons of pangolin scales seized by parties to CITES in 2016 and 2017, according to UNODC. Hundreds of millions of dollars are believed to have been illicitly earned through pangolin trafficking associated with Nigeria alone.
What is the major use of pangolins?
Locally, they are mostly hunted for food. Internationally, they are trafficked mostly to Asia for traditional medicines, fashion accessories and, to a small degree, food.
Are there any laws that ban farming, poaching or selling pangolins? What are the penalties?
Nigeria has had laws against the illegal trade of endangered wildlife for decades. Pangolins were amongst over 100 animals listed as endangered in the Endangered Species (Control of International Trade and Traffic) Act of 1973. The law placed a permanent restriction on licences to trade those animals, except under unique circumstances which must be devoid of illegality.
The law criminalised illicit trade of pangolins and other endangered fauna and flora, with up to one-year imprisonment upon conviction. It also imposed immediate seizure in suspected cases of illegal trade or transport.
Have there been any actual prosecutions? Have there been any court cases?
Unfortunately, no convictions relating to the illegal pangolins trade could be confirmed from electronic searches of court records; but it is possible that manual files may exist in any of the hundred of judicial jurisdictions across the country.
Similarly, several suspects from whom pangolins have been seized in recent months are said to be facing prosecution by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), but the court documents could not be immediately obtained.
Who are the people involved in the trade of pangolins? Who they sell the pangolins to and for how much?
An adult pangolin goes for between N1,500 (US $5.00) to N6,000 (US $17.00) in local markets. However, they can be sold for up to US $250.00 when trafficked to Asia and elsewhere outside Africa.
How can you help?
Persons who suspect illegal trade or trafficking of pangolins should inform the Nigerian Customs Service at: +234-803-475-3550 or +234-818-888-3434.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has a country office in Nigeria. It’s representative, Sylvester Tunde Atere can be reached at +234-701-683-9158 or Sylvester.ATERE@un.org.
The Nigerian Conservation Foundation could also be reached at: +234-805-356-2766 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact person: Oladapo Soneye.
Editor’s Note: This article were first published in The Pangolins Reports, a news initiative by the Global Environmental Reporting Collective to investigate the illegal wildlife trade of pangolins across Asia, Africa and Europe. PREMIUM TIMES is a member of the collective and we have the permission to republish under the creative commons licence.