The Tanzania Times
Eastern Africa News Network

TAWIRI now setting out to study the elusive Pangolins

The Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute is planning to conduct the first and thorough study on Pangolins, the hardly mentioned but equally endangered species, known locally as ‘Kakakuona.’

Pangolins that come in different types and sizes happen to be elusive wildlife species whose main threat comes from ongoing mass trafficking of the scaly animals from Africa to Asia and the Far East.

“Pangolins are elusive species of wildlife, it is hard to trace them and so far very few if any studies have been conducted on them,” explained the Director of Research at the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), Dr Julius Keyyu.

According to Dr Keyyu there are three types of such species, in the country, including the Long-tailed Pangolin, Tree nesting Pangolin and the Giant Ground Pangolin.

Apparently these kinds of animals usually stay out of sight in Tanzania.

Now, whenever they appear in public, people get excited. This is because most locals believe the pangolins can predict the future thus the name ‘Kakakuona,’ which loosely translates into ‘Brother Seer!’

The actual number of Pangolins that the country has as well as their habitat, lifespan and behaviour are some of the issues that TAWIRI scientists and other researchers will soon be setting out to discover.

Pangolins are essentially solitary animals; primarily nocturnal feeders that are easily recognized by their bodies covered with a full armour of scales. They are also called scaly anteaters because of their preferred diet.

In Tanzanian pangolins are usually revered as some sort of holy creatures which means they will always be safe as long as they remain in the country.

However, pangolins are currently the most sought after wildlife species by traffickers. In fact, wildlife experts say the scaly mammals are so far the most trafficked species in the world.

The animals are reportedly now being illegally hunted in Africa then get shipped to Asia and the Far East countries, especially China and Hong-Kong.

“Pangolins are already extinct in Asia and now wildlife traffickers have started smuggling the creatures from Africa taking them to Asia where they are being killed, mostly for their scales,” stated the Director of Lusaka Agreement taskforce, Edward Phiri.

Phiri was speaking in Arusha earlier during the recently held Regional Training on Reducing Maritime Trafficking of Wildlife between Africa and Asia, organized by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force and the Grace Farms Foundation – USA.

According to the Director of the Lusaka Agreement task force some of the pangolins get shipped to the Far East, especially China where they happen to be popular delicacies in hotels and restaurants, while others are taken to India where their scales are used to create some medicinal formulas.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says there is also demand in the United States for pangolin products, particularly for their leather to be used in boots, bags, and belts.

Scaly or scary?

The WWF reveals that there are eight species of pangolins are found on two continents.

They range from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered.

Four species live in Africa, including the Black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), White-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), Giant Ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) and Temminck’s Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii).

The four species found in Asia: Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla).

All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws, and two are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

In June 2020, China increased protection for the native Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) to the highest level, which closed an important loophole for consumption of the species in-country. Additionally, the government will no longer allow the use of pangolin scales in traditional medicine, a big win given that an estimated 195,000 pangolins were trafficked in 2019 for their scales alone (Challender, et. al, 2020).

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