BUSHMEAT trade, which involves the commercialisation of the meat of animals living in the wild, is an age-old trade in most parts of West Africa, including Ghana.
Most patrons of local eateries referred to as ‘chop bars’ would not buy their food without the meat of animals in the wild, which they consider a delicacy and indeed are want to brag about it to their friends after they have enjoyed such meal, mostly comprising the local fufu dish and their preferred bushmeat.
However, while the hunting of game and the consumption of bushmeat has become part of our heritage, the insatiable craving for bushmeat is driving most of our wildlife inheritance into extinction.
One peculiar mammal Ghana is blessed to have – the pangolin, known locally as ‘aprawa’, has been caught up in the bushmeat web and currently faces extermination from our forests.
According to the Deputy National Director of A. Rocha Ghana, a conservation non-governmental organisation, Mr Darl Bonsu, of the eight pangolin species in the world, Ghana is fortunate to host three, which are – the Tree or Africa White-bellied (Phhataginus tricuspis), Long-tailed or Black-bellied (Phataginus tetradactyla) and Giant Ground (Smutsia gigantea) pangolins.
All of these, nonetheless, face extinction if no concrete steps are taken immediately to protect them in the wild, he says.
Already the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the three African pangolin species found in Ghana as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) also states that “Pangolins are used extensively in African traditional medicine (13 body parts of pangolins are employed in the treatment of 35 ailments) and as bushmeat.
The situation is made worse by the lack of data on the species’ population, distribution and ecology, critical to make decisions on their conservation, CITES says.
It is what informed the IUCN pangolin specialist group at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology’s (KNUST) priority recommendation for Africa to establish a baseline ecological data to better assess the impact of harvesting on wild pangolin populations.
This project which surveyed the Atewa Range forest for pangolins to establish its distribution, habitat associations and population estimates in 2017 observed a low pangolin population density comprising only two species. The group said the third species had been extinct in the zone for 10 years.
Number one target
That may not be surprising, as Mr Bonsu told ECOWATCH that pangolins are the number one target for wildlife traffickers and that 2.7 million African pangolins are killed every year, while in every five minutes a pangolin is poached from the wild.
An estimated 206.4 tonnes of pangolin scales were confiscated in 52 seizures between 2016 and 2019 alone, he said, adding that an average of 20 tonnes of pangolins and their parts are trafficked every year.
The traffickers used 500 smuggling routes between 2010 and 2015, while 27 new global routes are created annually, Mr Bonsu said.
What makes pangolins found in parts of Africa and Asia particularly susceptible to hunting is that they are very defenseless. Pangolins constitute one of the most harmless, vulnerable animals exploited for bushmeat and trafficking and they are on record to be the most trafficked animal on earth.
The only animal with scales, pangolins just coil up (roll up into a ball) when they sense danger, making it easy for predators (mostly humans) to pick them up.
Killed pangolins are sold mostly along the country’s trunk roads to lovers of bushmeat. The main threats against them are illegal hunting and habitat loss.
They are mostly used for meat, accessories and medicine. This is buttressed by Mr Bonsu who says Ghana’s pangolins are under threat from “hunting for consumption as bushmeat and for sale to Chinese people who need it for the scales and international trade.”
The situation of the pangolin is made even more precarious because there is no data on how many we have in our forests.
It is, however, important to keep the pangolin alive because they help control insect population by eating ants and termites. They are uniquely adapted to eating ants (up to 70 million a year) with a tremendously long tongue that can reach deep into ant hills.
It means when they become extinct, we will have to contend with a large insect population which may be disastrous.
Pangolins also burrow into the ground, which improves the quality of the soil (by making it aerated and fertile) and aids in the decomposition cycle, providing a healthy substrate for lush vegetation to grow. Killing them, therefore, hampers soil and vegetation quality and the quality of human life.
“Pangolins control termite populations, which is crucial for pest management on farms and in our environment.
Their burrowing activities to get termites is good for enriching the soil,” Mr Bonsu said.
World Pangolin Day
It is to drum home the need to protect the threatened pangolin population, that World Pangolin Day was instituted and is marked every third Saturday in February.
On this day the world is asked to recognise the plight of the pangolin, which is the most illegally traded mammal in the world.
According to Mr Adam M. Roberts, the CEO of Born Free USA, a global leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation, “It is estimated that more than 960,000 pangolins were illegally traded over the past decade. Most illegally sourced pangolins are destined for markets in China and Vietnam, but demand for pangolins in the United States remains significant, “he says.
“At least 26,000 imports of pangolin products were seized in the United States between 2004 and 2013,” according to Mr Roberts, who is also the CEO of Born Free Foundation.
He stated during the global commemoration of World Pangolin Day that “The pangolin’s only defence mechanism against predators is to roll into a ball – which actually makes it easier for humans to simply pick up the helpless animal.”
“Humans are the pangolin’s top predator, and at least one pangolin is estimated to be killed every hour in Asia. All eight species of pangolins are in danger, and the two most endangered pangolin species may go extinct within only 10 years.
“Pangolin meat is considered to be a luxury product in China and Vietnam and their scales, blood and foetuses are used in traditional Chinese medicine (despite an absence of scientific evidence to support the alleged medicinal benefits).
“Time is running out for pangolins, and they desperately need our help,” Mr Roberts stated.
Joining in the global commemoration, A Rocha had as its theme: “World Pangolin Day: Advocating for All the 8 species we have in the world but most importantly the 3 we have in Ghana, all are THREATENED with EXTINCTION.”
“It is time to think about saving the animals that we love for bushmeat and are a part of the environment, that we need to ensure generations come to see as well. It is time to make pangolins roam our wild free again without a threat of hunting, selling, killing, and eating.
“Share a picture of pangolins with your family members and have a discussion around it. Do not be surprised most have not even heard of it. Even more important Don’t eat #𝐀𝐩𝐫𝐚𝐰𝐚,” a campaign launched by the group said.
Mr Bonsu and his A Rocha Ghana organisation that have been creating awareness among hunters on the highways and also doing a rescue and release programme for the pangolins, believe that what is left of the animals in our forests can be protected by strictly enforcing the laws which make buying and selling of pangolins for any purpose criminal.
Although the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission is responsible for protecting pangolins, Mr Bonsu maintains that they do not have any direct dedicated programme for pangolins.
Pangolin Ghana, a pangolin conservation group based in Sunyani, has also been doing awareness creation in schools and promoting their conservation.