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Opinions Wed, 10 Feb 2021

Pangolins need stricter protection in Ghana

A Pangolin is not an animal that many Ghanaians think about. But not so for the ultra-rich who relish its meat, and those who depend on its curative and spiritual abilities to thrive - in health or in business.

According to wildlife experts, the pangolin is arguably the most trafficked animal in the world. The National Geographic 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—transporting from Nigeria.

The pangolin last year gained global media attention when it was suspected to be the source of the much-dreaded COVID-19. However, some researchers, including, Frutos et al., 2020 have declared the ever- harmless mammal innocent. This unique species rather makes a priceless contribution to the ecosystem through their activities, particularly their support to crop production.

Professor Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, a renowned Botanist and Global Biodiversity Advocate, 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.

“A single pangolin reportedly consumes as many as 70 million insects per year, mainly ants and termites,” he says. “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, “Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived. Who are we to destroy or even diminish biodiversity?”.

The vulnerability of Pangolins in Ghana

Madam Ernestina Anie, the Public Relations Officer of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission (WD-FC), 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 now rare.

There is no ready information to describe the taste of the pangolin but in some parts of the world the meat is a delicacy for many. Indeed, elsewhere, people consume it to indicate how wealthy or privileged they are in their societies.

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 GH¢100 to GH¢250.

Often times, however, the GNA was informed that some visiting wildlife activists, aware of how endangered the mammals are, pay ransom to traders at the Anyinam Market to give them another chance to service in their natural habitat.

Traditionally, pangolins scales and bones are treated for and used in curative formulas for ailments such as rheumatism, waist pain, asthma, menstrual pains, stomach disorders and convulsions, according to Boakye et al., 2015.

Some people also use pangolins or their blood in concoctions for spiritual protection and money rituals.

Madam Esi Mensima, one of the many traders of herbal products at the Timber Market in Accra 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 both 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 regarding the possession of pangolins or their hunting.

Mr Kofi Sarpong, an Officer of the WD-FC at the Anyinam, says having worked in the area for about three years he had not witnessed any prosecution at Anyinam.

According to him, traders of pangolins at the market often claimed that there were ‘big people’ behind the business, who also bought some of the animals from Somanya in the Eastern Region, parts of Bono, Ahafo and Ashanti regions.

A Police Officer who pleaded anonymity also said no case related to the possession or hunting of pangolins had been reported at the station.

However, Madam Anie and Mr Daryl Bosu, the Deputy National Director of ARocha Ghana, told the GNA that they had arrested and reported some hunters and traders in pangolins to the police station on a number of occasions.

According to Madam Anie, following up on such cases were rare because the Police considered them trivial offences.

She recalls that between 2015 and 2020, a total of 16 pangolins were confiscated and released into their natural habitat. The offenders were, however, left off the hook.

Mr Bosu explains: “As pangolins are listed as an endangered species, the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission must 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.”

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

The pangolin may not be in your diet or on your mind today, however, like every natural creature, it is part of the ecosystem, which sustains humankind. Therefore, it is imperative to protect the pangolin to preserve one’s life.
Columnist: Albert Oppong-Ansah