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Pangolins need stricter protection in Ghana

A Pangolin is not an animal that ordinary Ghanaians think about every day. But for the ultra-rich who deem it as a delicacy and those who need its curative and spiritual abilities.

It is a cherished animal. That is why wildlife experts say it is believed to be the most trafficked animal in the world.

The National Geography reports that in two record-breaking seizures in the space of a week in April 2019, Singapore seized a 14.2-ton shipment and a 14-ton shipment of pangolin scales—from an estimated 72,000 pangolins—coming from Nigeria.

Pangolins and its usefulness became a topical issue last year when it was initially linked to the transmission of Covid-19.

It, however, turns out to be false as studies by researchers including; Frutos et al., 2020 proved otherwise. These unique mammals rather make a priceless contribution to the ecosystem through their activities, particularly their support to crop production.

Importance of Pangolins in the Environment

A renowned Botanist and Global Biodiversity Advocate, Professor Alfred Oteng-Yeboah says pangolins play a critical role in the ecology just as other organisms and make the system complete.

He explains that they provide the earth with all-natural pest control and are fantastic tenders of soil.

“It is said that a single pangolin consumes as many as 70 million insects per year, mainly ants and termites,” he noted.

The renowned Botanist notes that “The cycle will be broken if actors like pangolins go extinct. This is because they keep the population of ants and termites in good balance.”

Referencing Emeritus Professor E O Wilson, he quotes “… Every species is a masterpiece who destroy or diminish biodiversity…”

The vulnerability of Pangolins in Ghana

The Public Relations Officer of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission (WD-FC), Madam Ernestina Anie, says Ghana is home to three of the eight species of pangolins in the world.

These are the African white-bellied, Giant ground and Black-bellied pangolins.

They give birth to only one offspring per year and are vulnerable to overexploitation. Of the three, the Giant ground pangolins, which used to be common in Mole National Park are rare.

Sadly, the Ghana News Agency (GNA) gathered that their meat is a delicacy for many especially the most prominent people including; chiefs, elders, some senior security officials and some government officials in the country.

A quick scan through bush meat markets in the country especially one of the biggest, the Anyinam market located along the Accra-Kumasi Road showed that the prices of pangolins depend on their sizes, ranging from GHC 100 to GHC 250.

GNA also gathered that foreigners who are aware of how endangered the mammals are pay ransom to traders on the Ayinam market rescue and set them free.

Traditionally, pangolins scales and bones are used to formulate local medicines to treat ailments such as; rheumatism, waist pain, asthma, menstrual pains, stomach disorders and convulsions, according to Boakye et al., 2015.

Some people also use pangolins in preparation of concoctions for spiritual protection and money rituals.

One of the many traders of herbal artifacts at the Timber Market in Accra, Madam Esi Mensima, told GNA that because pangolins parts are in high demand, they are very expensive.

“The heart and a half kilogramme of the scales might cost between GH¢150 and GH¢500, depending on where you buy it from in Accra,” she said.

Laws banning Pangolins Hunting

Ghana is a signatory to many international instruments that mandate her to protect nature and its habitat especially those in critical danger such as pangolins.

These laws include; the tenants of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Internationally, pangolins are captured on the Red List of threatened species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Pangolins are shielded by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES, Appendix I) and thus, cannot be exported or hunted even for their meat, which is a delicacy in some communities.

Additionally, with Schedule One of Ghana’s Wildlife Conservation Act of 1971 (LI 685), people are prohibited from hunting or possessing pangolins, however, this regulation is continuously flouted.

Offenders of this regulation risk paying either a maximum penalty unit of GH¢200 or face a jail term of not more than six months, or suffer a fine and jail term, depending on the gravity of one’s case.

Law Enforcement

Checks made by the GNA at the Anyinam Police Stations, where the popular market is located indicate that there had not been any prosecution so far in the possession of pangolins or their hunting.

An Officer of the WD-FC at the Anyinam, Mr Kofi Sarpong, says having worked in the area for about three years; the prosecution has happened at Anyinam.

He alleges traders of pangolins at the Ayinam market are salesmen saying, “There are big people who are behind the business. The big men buy the animals not only from this area, but as far as Somanya in the Eastern Region, parts of Bono, Ahafo and Ashanti Regions,” he added.

According to a Police Officer who pleaded anonymity, no case related to the possession or hunting of pangolins reported at the station.

The officer’s account does not corroborate with the claim of at least two persons—Madam Anie and Mr Daryl Bosu, the Deputy National Director of ARocha Ghana told the GNA that they arrested and reported some people who were trading in pangolins to the police station on a number of occasions.

Madam Anie was of the view that when issues of hunting Pangolins were reported to the Police, they were often not followed up because they were considered as trivial offenses. The public is also of that view.

She recalled that from 2015 through to 2020, a total of 16 pangolins were confiscated and released back into their natural habitat. A number of the cases, she says, were reported, but people involved were left off the hook.

Mr Bosu remarks that “As pangolins are listed as an endangered species, it is the responsibility of the WD-FC to ensure that reported cases are pursued and culprits punished to serve as a deterrent to others.

“That said, we should also see it as a collective responsibility to support state agencies in doing their work. For example, Police Officers who work along the Kumasi-Accra Highway do not know it is an offense to hunt and trade in pangolins. This is not their fault. It shows that a lot of education is needed among the populace,” he said.

According to him, it has been difficult to prioritise the pangolin conservation issue over the years, especially, the WD-FC can do more, but we also recognize they need our support. “We are not attaching seriousness to the protection of pangolins,” he added.

Madam Anie says the WD-FC had taken steps including; working with stakeholders to ensure the review of regulation to make it punitive, rollout educational campaigns for the security agencies and the public to safeguard pangolins.

If for nothing at all, the outbreak of Covid-19, rumored to be originated from a wild animal must be a lesson to humans to respect and protect nature, especially pangolins.

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