No place to hide for Africa's pangolins amid China buying spree

Wed Sep 17, 2014 11:28am EDT
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By Emma Farge and Gerauds Obangome

DAKAR/LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Alongside dirt roads twisting through the dense tropical forests of Gabon, the scaly bodies of lifeless long-snouted pangolins dangle from sticks stuck in the ground by hunters.

The pangolin, a mammal that looks like an anteater but has the tough scales of a crocodile, has long been prized in central Africa as a bushmeat delicacy.

But growing demand for it from Asia, where pangolin scales are used in Chinese medicine to help women lactate and to cure skin disorders, now threatens to hasten its demise and rob African countries of a precious resource.

Conservationists say the demand boom is due to declining wild populations in Asia as well as high numbers of Chinese workers in Africa's resource and timber sectors, located in remote regions of the continent's interior.

The example of Africa's elephants, whose numbers have been slashed by demand from Asia for their ivory, have prompted conservations to mobilize to protect the pangolins.

"It's always been ivory but the new pressure is on the pangolin," said Lee White, the British-born head of Gabon's national parks agency, which runs the 13 national parks covering just over a tenth of the country's territory.

"We're looking out for workers here putting out orders for pangolin and we've had to train sniffer dogs at the ports."


A giant pangolin walks in the woods in Lope National Park in Gabon in this picture provided by Panthera September 14, 2013.  REUTERS/Laila Bahaa-el-din/Panthera/Handout via Reuters