Endangered or near extinction?: Catching pangolins in K-P... for the Chinese market

Hunters go after the scaly anteaters without concern as the wildlife department looks on.

Hunters go after the scaly anteaters without concern as the wildlife department looks on. ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHID


Pangolins – often referred to as scaly anteaters – are thinning out in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) as they continue to be overhunted and killed.  The endangering of the animal, however, fails to invite much attention from wildlife authorities.

A small to medium-sized mammal, pangolins are largely found in East and Central Africa and the foothills of mountain ranges in South-East Asia – South China, Nepal, North India, and then further east, in Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Perhaps most widely hunted in China, or for export to the country, pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and its scales considered medicinal in the Chinese market. The blood of a freshly killed pangolin is also coveted as a tonic.

The Chinese Pangolin or Manis pentadactyla are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’s endangered list.

Closer to home in K-P, the Manis crassicaudata or Indian pangolin is highly sought after in the suburbs of Peshawar, Darra Adam Khel, Kohat, Khyber Agency, Mardan and Nowshera. Nomads have set up camps to net and capture pangolins. According to most wildlife protection websites, no humane methods are employed in killing these anteaters. There are also no accurate records of the species population in the country.

The same species is on the protection list in India and Bangladesh.

An official of the Wildlife Department spoke to The Express Tribune, requesting anonymity. He shared the department was aware of the excessive hunting of the scaly mammals but being short-staffed were unable to do much. The official corroborated Kohat, Darra Adam Khel, Peshawar, Frontier Region Peshawar, Mardan, parts of Charsadda and Nowshera were hotbeds of pangolin hunting but no one was paying any attention.

“We have information the scales of the animal are being sold for Rs20,000 per kilogramme in Peshawar and its meat is equally in demand,” he explained. Pangolins are being smuggled to China, the largest market for the animal.

“The Chinese have a varied palate; they will eat frogs, tortoise and all sorts of reptiles.”

“With a booming economy, it has become a status symbol to eat rare and exotic animals, which is simply destroying wildlife,” warned the official whose department has been unable to prevent the capturing and smuggling of the species.

Pangolin and freshwater turtles have no natural enemies in countries like Pakistan and till recently had flourishing populations, he added.

Until a few years ago, in the absence of conservation laws, freshwater turtles were being caught in nullahs and rivers around Peshawar on a very large scale. The meat would be smuggled to China but the practice ended when Chinese engaged in the trade felt compelled to flee Peshawar due to militancy.

Santush Kumar, a nomad, said he and his friends catch pangolin in Peshawar, Kohat, Mardan and other parts of the province. “If you catch an animal the size of a domestic cat, I would pay Rs12,000 for it.” The price increases exponentially with the size of the animal.

“If you have the animal which rolls up like a ball when caught then it is exactly what I want,” stated Kumar. His friends have set up camps in different parts of these cities and hunt mostly in the cover of the night, which is when the rather nocturnal creatures feed.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2013.

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