Written by  McDonald Chiwayula

Environmentalists in the country have called for more sensitisation on the need to protect pangolins saying they play a key role in having a balanced ecosystem.

A pangolin, this specie is facing extinction A pangolin, this specie is facing extinction web

An anecdote is said of some apes that had an axe to grind with Man X. The man kept scaring them away from the nearby fields. Later, when they heard that the man had died they jubilated calling it good riddance. The following year the surrounding gardens were not cultivated and there was no more green maize to steal. That's when they realised that the man was a farmer and owner of the maize gardens.


With that in mind, scientists claim that once the ecosystem is disturbed by extremism in anything, nature has a way of fighting back.


Currently, Pangolins fall under the red list of endangered species due to massive trafficking.


For starters, Pangolins are scaly wild animals with indirect benefits to humans. Environmentalists tout pangolins for their role in loosening the soil and keeping in check pests especially ants, termites and some destructive insects that affect crop yield in the agriculture sector.


Samantha Nampuntha, Campaigns Coordinator for Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, says Pangolins play a key role in wildlife biodiversity. She said one pangolin can eat over 70 million termites/insects in a year which is quite a significant figure in pest reduction.


"This wild animal plays a crucial role in an ecosystem. What is currently happening as regards the trafficking of these animals is the creation of an unbalanced ecosystem. This will result in uncontrollable populations of other destructive insects. A single pangolin can eat 70 million insects in a year," said Nampuntha.


Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) has led the fight in the past years to curb the trafficking of pangolins and other animals. This publication learns that LWT has a functional section that deals with conservation justices.


Our research unearths that LWT Conservation Justice Section has been vocal to repel the 1992 Malawi National Parks and Wildlife Act, which stipulated light fees and penalties for wildlife crimes. The maximum penalty was K10, 000. The advocacy against lighter penalties and sentences yielded to the current Act that has a maximum sentence of 30 years Imprisonment with Hard Labour (IHL).


The unit has also conducted sensitisation meetings with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and Malawi Police Service (MPS) on the need to tighten loopholes in the conservation of wild animals.


Worth noting is that the section assisted DNPW and MPS  to set up a dog unit, crucial for fighting wildlife crimes.


Echoing the sentiments is the president of the Association of Environmental Journalists in Malawi (AEJ), Matthews Malata, who says the illegal pangolin trade is flourishing because society is not conversant with the importance of this wild animal and it needs to be protected.



Malata: 'Lets report beyond the headlines' - MBC Online


"We need to dig deep not just report on the surface findings. Some issues connected to Pangolin trafficking are not coming out clear. The essence of having this training is to ensure that journalists are drilled to tell the story beyond the usual headlines," said Malata.


DNPW  has applauded the efforts by LWT and said it is working with other state organs to tighten security and deter other would-be offenders.


Commenting on the same, Patrick Chinguwo, Parks and Wildlife Officer in the Department of National Parks and Wildlife says the law provides a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment with hard labour to perpetrators of the illegal pangolin trade.


He said: "Our department in collaboration with other stakeholders has fought hard to ensure the law is tight enough to stop the trade. Those found killing or selling pangolins will face stiffer sentences the maximum being a custodial sentence. The idea is to protect these species because, on the other hand, they are a tourist attraction that helps the country to earn foreign exchange.


"In the past, it was the rhino horn being highly poached, later elephant tusks now its the Pangolin. To fight and win this war our laws have been regazetted to ensure we have legislation that would act as a deterrent  to other would-be offenders."



Pangolin traffickers - LWT


Police publicist, James Kadadzera, acknowledges the rise in pangolin trafficking and said sweeping exercises are also meant to crack down on illegal activities like pangolin trafficking.


Recently police in Mzuzu netted two pangolin traffickers.


"We had a sweeping exercise in Mzuzu. Our officers were enforcing COVID-19 safety measures but they were also tracking other leads. In the process, we arrested two men who had a live pangolin," said Paul Tembo, Mzuzu Police Station publicist, in a statement.


Heinrich et al., 2010, describes the global trafficking of Pangolins as a wildlife crime requiring concerted efforts to end it in its entirety. The paper indicates that within the period, 127 new unchartered routes were opened for trafficking pangolins. Within the same period, 1270 seizures were conducted in 67 countries bringing the total tonnage of confiscated pangolin scales and body parts to 120 tonnes.



unchartered routes for pangolin trafficking - web


Another research reveals that unregulated bush-meat markets in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and China are key drivers of pangolin trafficking.


It is also highlighted in many investigative papers that myths claiming that one can get rich if a pangolin is used as an ingredient in traditional medicine are also fuelling trafficking of pangolins hence banning of the trade by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2016. This was one of the measures taken to save the Pangolins.


Sebastian Mthatiwa, Development Communications Specialist, says there's a need for mass sensitisation on pangolin trafficking. Mthatiwa says a multimedia approach can help to bring mindset change and stop the trafficking of pangolins.




A Vietnamese in meditation after taking a traditional drink

made using a baby pangolin  - The Star


In a special address to the nation, President Dr Lazarus Chakwera stressed the need to act responsibly with the environment and preserve all of its endowments for posterity.


"As a nation, we cannot keep our date with destiny without settling our debt with nature. Saving our natural environment means saving the only home God gave us to live in on this earth," said Dr Chakwera.


According to Malawi Tourism Statistics, since 2014, the country's tourism earnings have been on the rise with the latest information indicating that in the 2018-2019 financial year, forex earnings increased by 22.86 percent giving the country a total of $43 million (K34.1 billion). The figures speak for themselves on why we need to be serious as a nation with conservation of the environment and wildlife. Let's save the Pangolin!

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