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Pangolins: Illegal trafficking and conservation status

Feb 22, 2023

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Context

Probable question

What are Pangolins

Location of Pangolins

Significance of Pangolins

Pangolins Trade

Protection

Pangolin Trafficking in India

Way Forward

Frequently Asked Questions about Pangolins

Pangolins UPSC

Context

Recently a new report showed that from 2018 to 2022, as many as 1,203 pangolins, the most trafficked wild mammal in the world, were poached for the illegal wildlife trade in India.

Probable question

Pangolins play a vital role in ecosystem management, mostly in aerating and adding moisture to the soil as well as establishing plant communities through burrowing. Comment (150 words, 10 marks)

What are Pangolins

About Pangolins: Pangolins are nocturnal, toothless mammals that dig burrows and feed on ants and termites. 

Pangolin Species: There are eight different pangolin species that can be found across Asia and Africa, namely:

  • Asian pangolins: Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) – Critically Endangered, Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) – Critically Endangered, Palawan pangolin (Manis culionensis) – Critically Endangered and Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) – Endangered
  • African pangolins: White-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) – Endangered, Giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) – Endangered, Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) – Vulnerable, and Black-bellied pangolin  (Phataginus tetradactyla) – Vulnerable
  • The two species found in India is the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla)

Location of Pangolins

  • With the exception of the North-East, high Himalayas, and arid regions, Indian pangolins are found throughout most of India.  
  • The Chinese Pangolin ranges through Assam and the eastern Himalayas.
  • Additionally, the species can be found in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal.

Significance of Pangolins

  • Pangolins play a vital role in ecosystem management, mostly in aerating and adding moisture to the soil as well as establishing plant communities through burrowing. 
  • Pangolins also keep in check the population of certain insects they prey on. 
  • The burrows made by pangolins are also utilized as shelter by other species within their ecosystem. 
  • Over 30 species have been reported to use the burrows made by Chinese pangolins, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and invertebrates, for different purposes. 

Pangolins Trade

  • More than 1 million pangolins were trafficked over a ten-year period.
  • Pangolins are traded for their demand across the world, mostly in Asia and Africa, where their scales are considered to be medicinal and their meat a delicacy. 
  • Additionally, there is a market for pangolin products in the US, particularly for the leather that can be used for boots, bags, and belts.
  • The commercial trade of pangolins was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 2017.

Protection

  • In order to bring the tech industry together in closing down this open channel for the illegal trade of Panolins, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its partners TRAFFIC and IFAW established the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online in 2018.
  • In India, pangolins are protected by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, of 1972, which prohibits their hunting, trade, or any other form of utilization. 

Note:

  • The World Pangolin Day is observed annually on February 20 due to the enormous trade in these elusive mammals.

Pangolin Trafficking in India

  • In the nine years preceding the current analysis period, from 2009-2017, almost 6,000 pangolins were trafficked in India. 
  • Pangolins, their scales, and derivatives were recovered in 342 seizure incidents across 24 states and one union territory of India, according to the analysis by TRAFFIC, a global wildlife conservation non-profit, and World Wide Fund for Nature-India. 
  • Half of the seizure incidents involved live pangolins, and 40% involved scales of the animal, which is also called the ‘scaly anteater’. 
  • Odisha had the most pangolin seizures (154) and seizure incidents (74) overall. 
  • Incidence of online trade of species which is a serious concern, owing to the difficulty in monitoring cyberspaces and tracing the illicit trade and those involved in it, was also observed.

Way Forward

  • The demand for pangolins in countries where the animal and its byproducts are consumed needs to be curtailed. 
  • Enforcement actions should be strengthened in India and internationally to deter trade and protect the mammal.

News Source: Down to Earth
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/wildlife-biodiversity/over-1-200-pangolins-trafficked-in-india-in-5-years-report-87774

Frequently Asked Questions about Pangolins

What's so special about Pangolins?

The main ways that pangolins contribute to ecosystem management are by aerating the soil, adding moisture, and establishing plant communities through burrowing.  Additionally, pangolins control the population of some insects that they prey on. Other species living in the pangolins' ecosystem use the burrows they dig as shelter. Over 30 species have been reported to use the burrows made by Chinese pangolins, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and invertebrates, for different purposes.

Why is the pangolin the most trafficked animal?

Pangolins are traded due to their demand throughout the world, primarily in Asia and Africa, where their scales are thought to have medicinal properties and their meat to be delectable. Additionally, there is a market for pangolin products in the US, particularly for the leather that can be used for boots, bags, and belts.

Do Pangolins bite?

Pangolins lack teeth and rely on a stomach organ that resembles a gizzard and is designed to grind food. Pangolins defend themselves by using their scales as weapons. If anything is inserted between the pangolin's scales when it feels threatened, it will give an unfamiliar paw or snout a nasty shock!

Do Pangolins live in India?

The two species found in India are the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla). With the exception of the North-East, high Himalayas, and arid regions, Indian pangolins are found throughout most of India. It is located at elevations of up to 2500 meters. Additionally, the species can be found in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal.

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