November 19, 2019

The Minister who cares

Our newly appointed Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has brought to the attention of the public a scarcely known but highly endangered mammal, the pangolin. This odd-looking creature happens to be the world’s most trafficked animal and Minister Barbara Creecy warns this is a very lucrative illegal trade.

Pangilins are nocturnal, highly secretive and very hard to spot. It is also that there is an increase in the unlawful hunting of this mysterious creature, and southern Africa is one of the few places it can be found.

The figures may not look terribly alarming, yet. By the beginning of September this year 28 people had been arrested for illegal trafficking, and one conviction was reported. But that only reflects the arrests that have been reported.

The arrest and conviction rate is down compared to last year, when 83 arrests were recorded and nine convictions reported. However, that is no excuse for complacency. It is a significant increase from the 2017 figures, when 29 people were arrested and four convictions reported.

Creecy warns that there is definitely an increase in this unlawful hunting hidden trade.

The figures have only been tracked since 2017 so we have no idea of the illegal extent of pangolin poaching in the past, but Creecy warns that there is definitely an increase in the unlawful hunting. This is a hidden trade, but threatens to present as great a threat to scarce species as that facing abalone or rhino.

For those not in the know, pangolins are mammals that are almost totally covered in reptilian-like scales, which provide protection from predators. They can only be found in Africa and Asia and although very difficult to track, their numbers are believed to be dwindling seriously.

Why, you may ask. They are coveted in Asia and China where their scales are used for traditional medicine and are believed to be aphrodisiacs. Their meat is widely popular. They are usually caught and traded live from parts of South Africa where they can be found – KZN, Gauteng and Western Cape – before being shipped abroad.

The Minister had an opportunity to raise this matter before parliament in response to a set of questions from the DA’s J R B Lorimer, who also asked what her department planned do to ensure the survival of pangolins in the wild in this country.

Pangolins are listed as Vulnerable in terms of Section 56 of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (Act 10 of 2004), which means they are supposed to be highly protected. A permit is required for activities such as hunting, catching, capturing or killing by any means, method or device whatsoever; importing into the Republic; and exporting from the Republic, including re-exporting.

According to the 2016 Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, South African pangolins are widely distributed, although largely confined to protected areas as well as well-managed livestock and wildlife farms. Given their predominantly nocturnal and secretive nature, it is very difficult to establish how many pangolins can still be found in the region. The estimates range widely, from between 7,002 and 32,135, with a most likely estimate of between 16,000 and 24,000, the Minister reported.

She said in her response to the question that at the 17th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP17), South Africa was a co-proponent of a proposal to transfer some Pangolin species from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I. The proposal was accepted by consensus, and the species was listed on Appendix I, effectively prohibiting any commercial international trade in any products and derivatives of pangolin.

Moira Levy

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Tuesday, 15 October 2019 12:03

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Notes from the House is an independent online publication that tracks and monitors Parliament’s role in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to improve the lives of South African citizens. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

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