Nigeria becomes an illegal pangolin trading center

At the entrance to the largest fish market in Lagos State, the butcher grabbed a sack from behind a table full of bloody corpses-a copper-colored antelope, a gray-black rattan rat, a five-foot protruding eye Long crocodile-grapefruit-sized ball.

“Pangolins… they paid a lot of money,” he said of Nigerian dealers and Asian buyers offering a critically endangered animal the equivalent of $30 per person-more than one-third of the local monthly minimum wage. One-used for precious scales in some traditional medicines.

The butcher, who asked not to be named, is a small participant in the global trade of pangolins, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Experts warn that the illegal industry is increasingly centered in Nigeria, which has developed into Africa’s most important wildlife smuggling center in recent years.

“Due to the high level of corruption, our borders are full of loopholes, our law enforcement is not strong enough, and we are deeply impoverished, people want something to put on the table, Nigeria has become this transit hub,” the country’s Ibadan University pangolin Professor Olajumok Morinich, head of the Conservation Society, said.

A series of high-profile seizures this year demonstrates Nigeria’s key role in trade. In July, the authorities seized 7 tons of pangolin scales and more than 46 kg of ivory in a house in Lagos, valued at 54 million U.S. dollars. In September, the authorities seized another 1 ton of balance in the city.

The Wildlife Justice Commission, whose intelligence work led to the raid, stated that the shipments were related to a global network active in Nigeria and Central Africa, which is responsible for more than half of the world’s seizures of pangolins and ivory.

Pangolin is a kind of gentle small animal similar to armored anteater. According to anti-smuggling organizations, it is the most smuggled mammal in the world, second only to African rhinos and elephants, tigers and abalones.

In the past five years or so, as repression and law enforcement in eastern and southern Africa have strengthened, criminal groups that have transferred large numbers of pangolin scales to China have turned to Nigeria.

Julian Rademeyer of the “Global Initiative to Combat Transnational Organized Crime” said: “There is no real investigative capacity specifically to address this issue.”

Although the trade in pangolins is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora—— sign In 183 countries, including Nigeria and China, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that nearly 200,000 animals were poached in 2019 alone. The British wildlife trade monitoring network organization Traffic has calculated that about 20 million tons of pangolins and their parts are trafficked each year.

Eight species of pangolins found in Africa and Asia are protected, two of which are classified as critically endangered. The relatively high prices they demand make them an almost irresistible target for hunters in countries with few job opportunities.

“What we need is to provide some sort of alternative source of livelihood for these people so that they can support their families so that they can survive without killing endangered species,” Morenikeji said. “African governments will have to do something for our poverty here.”

After the Covid-19 outbreak, Chinese authorities raised their pangolins to the highest level of protection last year and banned their use in traditional medicine.

The decision was made at the time of increasingly strict scrutiny of the country’s so-called wet goods market, where live animals are slaughtered and sold and are suspected of incubating the virus before it reaches humans. .

However, despite China’s increased enforcement efforts against trafficking, wildlife advocates say loopholes still exist and demand is strong. A 2017 report sponsored by the Chinese government found that the domestic wildlife trade employs 1 million people and is valued at more than US$74 billion.

With Asian pangolins “On the road to extinction”According to traffic, trade has moved to Africa. Although some animals are caught in Nigeria, most of the trade comes from poachers on the borders of Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries.

Scales and ivory are packed in containers usually marked with timber or other export products, and then shipped to Asian countries, including Vietnam, where wholesalers sell them to Chinese buyers. A Nigerian hunter might sell a pangolin to a butcher for 4,000 naira (10 U.S. dollars), while in China, a kilogram of scales sells for more than 1,000 U.S. dollars.

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An official involved in the recent seizures in Nigeria complained that one of the key reasons why it is difficult for Nigerian Customs to act on smuggling leads is “because it [the illicit trade] Usually a customs agent is involved.” Nigeria Customs did not respond to a request for comment.

Radmeier said the recent seizures in Nigeria are encouraging. “But seizures are not just an opportunity for customs authorities to hold press conferences… As often happens, or whether they will actually follow these leads and use them for prosecution and targeted investigation of the network evidence.”

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