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The sunda pangolin captured by a camera trap set up in Sabah. — Pic credit Danau Girang Field Centre
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Illegal trade links with organised syndicates connected to international networks and a combination of factors, is driving the sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) towards extinction in Sabah.
Pangolins are captured for their meat and other uses, and yet not much is discussed about the fate of the species, unlike that of the Bornean elephant or orang utan.
Research on pangolins is difficult work but much needed in order to better understand threats facing this nocturnal animal, and Sabah has a potential hero for the species in Sandakan-born Elisa Panjang, who developed a passion for pangolins during her undergraduate years.
A masters student at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Elisa has found during her studies on pangolin ecology that apart from poaching, habitat degradation also impacts pangolins negatively when their food sources of ants and termites are destroyed, as well as destroying vital nesting sites in forests.
“Pangolins are quite easy to capture because they roll up into a ball when threatened.
“A study by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, which fights illegal wildlife crime, shows that hunters in Sabah come from a variety of social backgrounds and usually hunt the animal to supplement their income.
“There is also local consumption. We need more data on the pangolin population and their distribution and how the species is being affected by poaching and trade.
“It is estimated based on information released by TRAFFIC in 2010 that at least 22,000 pangolins were captured in Sabah over a period of about 14 months,” she said.
Elisa who will further her studies and carry out a PhD on pangolins with Danau Girang Field Centre and Cardiff University, said there is a pressing need to better understand the plight of the species and to raise awareness among those who consume the species as an exotic delicacy, apart from educating poachers and potential hunters.
A workshop to discuss steps in creating awareness about pangolins locally will be held tomorrow at the Sabah Wildlife Department.
“This workshop, funded by Lush Cosmetics, will be, we hope, the first step towards better protection of the sunda pangolin in Sabah,” said Dr Benoit Goossens, the Danau Girang Field Centre director and co-organiser of the workshop.
He said the workshop will bring researchers, wildlife officers, environmental educators and non-governmental organisations members to share current trade data and conservation activities on pangolins, identify the gaps in resources and knowledge, design an awareness campaign and decide on important actions to avoid potential extinction of the species.
Pangolins are found over much of mainland Southeast Asia, from southern Myanmar through central and southern Laos, much of Thailand, central and southern Vietnam, Cambodia, to Peninsular Malaysia, to Sumatra, Java and adjacent islands (Indonesia) to Borneo.
There is scant population data due to lack of studies and the elusive nature of this nocturnal animal, but there are indications that sunda pangolin numbers may have declined by as much as 80% in the last two decades.
Due to rampant poaching, last month the International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN) upgraded the sunda pangolin to Critically Endangered, the worst listing on the Red List before a species is declared extinct.
In Sabah, the species is currently listed as a Protected Animal, in Part One of Schedule Two of the State’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, which means a hunting licence is required to hunt them, but no hunting licence has ever been issued.
Hunting without a licence is punishable by five years imprisonment or a fine of RM50,000 or both.
It is hoped the species will be upgraded to Schedule One making it a Totally Protected Species in the near future.
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