“Instead of popping a bottle of champagne to celebrate a mega-deal or achievement, they prefer eating pangolin meat negatively impacting the already plummeting population of the world’s most trafficked mammal.
“You then wonder whether we are regressing as people despite all the new technologies surrounding us.”
These were the sentiments echoed by the founder of Tikki Hywood Foundation, Lisa Hywood, and passionate environmental lawyer, Takudzwa Mutezo regarding the plunging population of pangolins in Asia which has resulted in the shifting demand towards Africa, the only other home to four of the eight pangolin species.
According to Guinness World Records, a study established that pangolin hunting has increased by as much as 150% in Central Africa alone. The study calculated between the pre-2000 period of 1975–99 and 2000–14.
Adding to the mythically structured mammal’s woes is the heavy demand for its scales which are believed to be a cure for arthritis, stimulating lactation, epilepsy, menstrual pain and host of other inflictions in parts of Asia.
This is despite the fact that there is no scientific basis for the beliefs as pangolin scales are made of keratin the same material that makes human nails.
However, these cultural beliefs continue to be the greatest threat to the extinction of pangolins.
Last year, a record-breaking shipment involving 14 tonnes of scales believed to be from 36 000 African pangolins were seized by authorities in Singapore. The scales were shipped from Nigeria.
But while Asian traditional beliefs are at the epicentre of pangolin devastation, back home, culture is playing a leading role in championing pangolin conservation efforts.
According to local culture, pangolin meat is only a delicacy for chiefs believed to strengthen the leader’s rule. It is also taboo for a commoner to eat its meat, while it spells good fortunes to persons who capture the animal and submit it to their chief.
But in Chimanimani, some 415km from the capital, a traditional leader, Chief Muusha of Muusha communal lands has heeded to the directive from spirit mediums halting the killing and eating of the scaly anteater.
“Pangolins have become an endangered species, to this end, our spirit mediums have directed us to halt the killing and eating of pangolins.
“Instead, when a local presents a pangolin to the chief, spirit mediums assigned us to go through certain rituals with the animal and in place of killing a pangolin after the ritual, we were told to find a different animal to eat,” said the traditional leader Muusha.
Since 2017, Muusha has brought forward eight pangolins to national parks and wildlife agents who in turn hand over the animal to Tikki Hywood Foundation who are responsible for the rehabilitation and release back to natural habitats.
A four-legged animal is also given to the pangolin presenter as motivation to the brilliant efforts towards upholding wildlife conservation.
In a move to give a fighting chance to pangolin population the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – an international agreement between governments – in 2016 voted the pangolin into appendix 1 of endangered species spelling the total ban of pangolin trade.
While culture is playing a leading role in protecting the unique species, legally, Zimbabwe is also the global leader in pangolin protection with most successful convictions of people found in possession of pangolin or its body part.
A nine-year jail term is a minimum sentence for a person found in possession of any pangolin body part.