World Pangolin Day falls every 3rd Saturday in February to celebrate and develop conservation efforts of this beautiful animal, who in recent years has become the most trafficked mammal in the world to the extent that it is nearly extinct.
Pangolins are nocturnal mammals spread over Asian and African continents, comprising eight species. Their diet contains ants and termites which they eat with the help of their long tongue. They also have large protective keratin scales to cover their skin which is one of the primary reasons for trafficking them. The other is their meat. 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 diet with minimal options.
On 18 February 2017, which coincidentally was also World Pangolin Day, a Sri Lankan woman was caught attempting to smuggle 11kgs of Pangolin scales to Chennai through Customs at the Bandaranaike International Airport. This is one of the four cases of Pangolin smuggling detected by Sri Lankan Customs in the past seven years. In each instance, smugglers were travelling to Chennai, which appears to be a hotspot for illegal wildlife trafficking. The same year, Kalpitiya police discovered 130kgs of scales sourced from an estimated 150 pangolins. These reports indicate that Sri Lanka is now becoming party to the illegal international trade of Pangolins.
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 conference in June, 2019, Sri Lanka will score big if as a country, it sets measures to protect and conserve pangolins, eliminating the illegal international trade currently increasing in the country.
Photo credits: Wildlife Alliance