Last week the Kalpitiya Police discovered 130kgs of scales sourced from an estimated 150 pangolins, in Kalpitiya.
On 18 February 2017 – which coincidentally was also World Pangolin Day – a woman was caught attempting to smuggle 11kgs of Pangolin scales to Chennai through Customs at the Bandaranaike International Airport. This is one of four cases of Pangolin smuggling detected by Sri Lankan Customs in the past five years. In each instance, smugglers were travelling to Chennai, which appears to be a hotspot for illegal wildlife trafficking. These reports indicate that Sri Lanka is now becoming party to the illegal international trade in Pangolins, which were identified earlier this year to be the most widely trafficked animals in the world.
The demand stems primarily from China and Vietnam, where Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy, and pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine. It is estimated that over a million Pangolins have been traded in the international market, sourced from across Asia and Africa.
In Sri Lanka, the Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) is nationally protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Known as ‘kaballawa’ in Sinhala and ‘alungu’ in Tamil, only one of eight species of Pangolin is found in Sri Lanka. Elusive and slow-breeding, pangolins often die in captivity as they live on a specialized diet of ants and termites.
All eight species of Pangolins from Asia and Africa are listed on Appendix 1 by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), giving it the highest levels of protection from commercial trade. Set to be the hosts of the next CITES meeting in 2019, Sri Lanka would record a big win if it is able to make significant progress in protecting its pangolins and eliminating the illegal international trade currently increasing in the country.
Photo credits: Wildlife Alliance