Weak enforcement sees surging trade in Philippine pangolin, study shows

by Elizabeth Claire Alberts on 4 August 2020

A new report published by TRAFFIC found that the illegal pangolin trade in the Philippines increased nine-fold in the last two years, with the authorities confiscating an estimated 6,894 pangolins between 2018 and 2019.
Data included seizures of pangolin scales and retrievals of live pangolins that escaped from wildlife traffickers.
TRAFFIC researchers also conducted ad hoc surveys around Manila to discover pangolin meat being served at restaurants and shops selling pills made from pangolin derivatives.
It’s estimated that Philippine pangolins, a critically endangered species of the pangolin, have declined up to 95% in the last 40 years.

A single, wild pangolin wandered across a golf course in the Philippine’s Cavite province in March 2018. When the golf club staff spotted the scaly anteater, which was hundreds of miles from its natural habitat on the island of Palawan, they contacted the authorities to come retrieve it. The pangolin was eventually put into a rehabilitation program in an attempt to release it back into the wild; in the end, however, it didn’t make it.

While it’s not entirely clear how this Philippine pangolin (Manis
culionensis) wound up on a golf course, the most likely explanation is that it had escaped from the wildlife trade. In the Philippines, pangolins are a protected species, and anyone caught trading them faces hefty fines and prison sentences of up to 12 years. But this hasn’t stopped traders from stealing pangolins from the Palawan region and transporting them to various towns and cities to sell them for meat consumption or medicinal use.
A Philippine pangolin. Image by TRAFFIC.

According to a new report released today by TRAFFIC, an NGO that monitors the international trade of wild animals and plants, an estimated 740 Philippine pangolins were seized between 2000 and 2017.
But in the next two years, the trade increased nine-fold — between 2018 and 2019, authorities intercepted an estimated 6,894 pangolins, representing 90% of all pangolins caught up in the illegal trade in the Philippines over the last two decades.

But these estimates are probably quite conservative, according to Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator at TRAFFIC.

“[C]ertainly the detected seizures are just the tip of the iceberg,”
Thomas told Mongabay. “How many more seizures are ‘under water’ is anyone’s guess but I suspect the true figure would be jaw-dropping.”

The figures include a record-breaking bust in September 2019. Following a raid in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, authorities confiscated 1154 kilograms (2,545 pounds) of pangolin scales and other wildlife parts from a two-story home there. A Chinese national, who was already known to Palawan authorities for a previous attempt to smuggle wildlife, was implicated in the seizure. He may have been preparing to export the pangolin scales to China, according to TRAFFIC.
Confiscated pangolin scales in Cagayan de Oro City in 2017, reportedly heading to Guangdong, China. Image by TRAFFIC.

In the last two years, there were also 18 “retrieval incidents” of live pangolins found roaming the streets of towns near Manila or nearby provinces, including the pangolin spotted on the golf course, the report states.

TRAFFIC researchers also conducted ad hoc surveys in the Manila metropolitan area in 2018 and 2019, and discovered pangolin meat being served in at least five restaurants, although it was not advertised on the menu and only available on a pre-order basis. They also found three shops in Manila selling pills that were manufactured in China using pangolin derivatives.

“While the rise in pangolin seizures speaks to successful enforcement action, it is also deeply alarming news for this rare animal,” Elizabeth John, senior communications officer at TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, said in a statement.
Imported “Armadillo antipyretic pills” reportedly containing pangolin derivatives. Image by TRAFFIC.

The Philippine pangolin is one of the most heavily poached and trafficked of the eight pangolin species, and is currently listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Due to the shy, elusive nature of the pangolin, its population status is difficult to assess, but it’s believed that the subspecies has declined up to 95% over the past 40 years.

While comprehensive data isn’t yet available for 2020, the trade doesn’t appear to be slowing down. In January, authorities seized 20 Philippine pangolins from a local wildlife trafficker in El Nido, Palawan, and released them back into the wild. There have also been three more retrieval incidents of smuggled pangolins since the start of the year.

Historically, law enforcement officials haven’t penalized convicted traffickers to the full extent of the law, and this may be one element that’s exacerbating the illegal trade, according to TRAFFIC.
Poached pangolins in a trafficker’s facility in El Nido, Palawan. Image by TRAFFIC

“I think you’d have to say sentences simply haven’t been in the realm of acting as a sufficient deterrent,” Thomas said. “Take the example of the first successful conviction of traffickers outside Palawan — on paper they received a three month prison sentence and USD1,970 fine for illegally transporting 10 live pangolins but all three were released from custody after paying the fine and being granted probation.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the Philippines recently acknowledged that the current penalties were not helping put a stop to wildlife crime in the Philippines, and officials have suggested that any convicted traffickers be given a mandatory minimum jail term of six years, and not be eligible for probation.

“With pressure continuing to mount, the only hope for the Philippine Pangolin is by stamping out the illegal trade through thorough investigations into poaching and trafficking cases, more prosecutions and solid convictions of traffickers,” John said.

Citation:

Sy, E. Y., & Krishnasamy, K. (2020). Endangered by Trade: The Ongoing Illegal Pangolin Trade in the Philippines. Retrieved from TRAFFIC, Southeast Asia Regional Office website:
https://www.traffic.org/site/assets/files/13052/philippine-pangolin-trade.pdf

https://news.mongabay.com/2020/08/weak-enforcement-sees-surging-trade-in-philippine-pangolin-study-shows/

Banned: No more pangolin scales in traditional medicine, China declares

by Elizabeth Claire Alberts on 10 June 2020

https://news.mongabay.com/2020/06/banned-no-more-pangolin-scales-in-traditional-medicine-china-declares/?fbclid=IwAR1uE9-5QByBEsd36QixYSKf-ZtGxIDGYVtq78qh6Wl8c6f_hL6Hbtz76Is

  • The Chinese government has banned pangolin scales from use in traditional Chinese medicine, and elevated pangolins to be a level one protected species within China.
  • Conservationists say they believe this move will completely shut down the commercial trade of pangolin parts within China and slow the international trade of the species.
  • Pangolins are one of the most widely trafficked animals in the world, despite being protected under CITES Appendix I, which bans most international trade.

The Chinese government has officially removed pangolin scales from a list of approved ingredients in traditional medicine, a momentous move that could bring an end to the large-scale illegal trade in the scaly anteaters, conservationists say.

The eight species of pangolins are together one of the most widely trafficked animals in the world, with more than a million individuals traded since 2000, according to a CITES report. In 2019 alone, more than 97 tons of scales from more than 150,000 African pangolins were intercepted by authorities, according to data collected by the African Pangolin Working Group.

Pangolins are one of the most trafficked species in the world. Image by Paul Hilton for WildAid.

“That’s only the scales that are intercepted, which is only about 10% of the trade, so you can imagine how many pangolins are being traded on the African continent,” Ray Jansen, chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group and member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Pangolin Specialist Group, told Mongabay.

This trade has persisted despite pangolins being a protected species under CITES Appendix I, which prohibits all international trade except in extraordinary circumstances. However, CITES does not regulate the commercial trade of the species within a country, which is why the sale of pangolin parts has persisted in China.

The delisting of pangolins for use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which was reported on June 9 by media outlet China Health Times, follows the Chinese State Forestry and Grassland Administration’s (SFGA) announcement that pangolins are now a national level one protected species in China. That gives pangolins the same protection as a species listed under CITES Appendix I, says Steve Blake, the chief China representative for WildAid.

Pangolin scales seized in Cameroon. Image by Keith Cameron/USFWS via Wikicommons (CC BY 2.0)
Pangolin scales seized in Cameroon. Image by Keith Cameron / USFWS via Wikicommons (CC BY 2.0)

This news follows the Chinese government imposing a ban on the consumption of wildlife and moving to shut down existing wildlife farms in several Chinese provinces. Those actions, in turn, were precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, believed to have started at a wildlife market in Wuhan.

Blake said he welcomes the news of pangolins being delisted for TCM, which he said will lead to a termination of the legal trade of pangolin products in China.

“More details are yet to come on the products already on the market or how long legal sales will still be available, but it’s only a matter of time now,” he told Mongabay. “And when they are all illegal it sends a very clear signal to both the consumer and enforcement officers, leaving no room for confusion or laundering illegal products. It is a very significant step in curbing the pangolin trade. It’s a very similar situation to what happened in 1993 when tiger bone and rhino horn were removed, recognizing that the use of these products in the practice is not sustainable with such rapidly depleting populations, and that there are many viable alternatives available.”

A baby Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis). Image by Gregg Yan.

But it’s doubtful the trade will end overnight, Blake said, adding that more work is required to enforce these new rules.

“There needs to be a combination of clearer regulations, stronger enforcement, and stronger public awareness to effectively end these wildlife consumption issues,” he said. “All three of these are headed in the right direction, but just last year alone saw authorities around the world seize 130 tons of pangolin products. This is enormous. There needs to be even more initiatives to reduce demand and punish illegal sales to end this trade. But these two recent announcements from China will help with that tremendously.”

Pangolin scales are widely used in TCM based on the belief that they have special medicinal and spiritual qualities, despite only consisting of keratin, the same substance that makes up human hair and fingernails. The scales are ground up into a powder and sold in more than 60 different commercial products in China, according to Jansen, who works with the South African government to monitor the trade.

Pangolin. Image by Paul Hilton for WildAid.

“Banning pangolin scale powder out of Chinese pharmacopoeia means literally that there is and will be no more demand,” Jansen said.

He added he doesn’t believe the pangolin trade will “go underground” following the announcement.

“Once it’s banned, I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to make it commercially available in China because it [TCM] is almost like Western medicine and regulated,” he said. “So it’s a massive turning point in terms of the conservation of all eight species of pangolins.”

Banner image caption: A baby pangolin holding onto its mother. Image by Paul Hilton for WildAid.

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.

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Pangolins may have incubated the novel coronavirus, gene study shows

(CNN)A deep dive into the genetics of the novel coronavirus shows it seems to have spent some time infecting both bats and pangolins before it jumped into humans, researchers said Friday.

But they said it’s too soon to blame [“blame”??  Not their fault humans captured and dragged them to wet markets] pangolins for the pandemic and say a third species of animal may have played host to the virus before it spilled [?] over to people.
What is clear is that the coronavirus has swapped genes repeatedly with similar strains infecting bats, pangolins and a possible third species, a team of researchers from Duke University, Los Alamos National Laboratory and elsewhere reported in the journal Science Advances.
A white-bellied pangolin  rescued from local animal traffickers at the Uganda Wildlife Authority office in Kampala, Uganda, on April 9, 2020.

What’s also clear is that people need to reduce contact with wild animals that can transmit new infections, the researchers concluded.
The team analyzed 43 complete genomes from three strains of coronaviruses that infect bats and pangolins and that resemble the new Covid-19 virus.
close dialog
“In our study, we demonstrated that indeed SARS-CoV-2 has a rich evolutionary history that included a reshuffling of genetic material between bat and pangolin coronavirus before it acquired its ability to jump to humans,” said Elena Giorgi, a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who worked on the study.
But their findings may let pangolins off the hook. The animals, also known as scaly anteaters, are sold as food in many countries, including China, and have been a prime suspect as a possible source of the pandemic.
“The currently sampled pangolin coronaviruses are too divergent from SARS-CoV-2 to be its recent progenitors,” the researchers wrote.
Whether the mixing and matching between bat viruses and pangolin viruses was enough to change the virus into a form that now easily infects humans remains unclear, the researchers said.
“It is also possible that other not yet identified hosts (can be) infected with coronaviruses that can jump to human populations through cross-species transmission,” the researchers wrote. “If the new SARS-CoV-2 strain did not cause widespread infections in its natural or intermediate hosts, such a strain may never be identified.”
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But people are setting themselves up to be infected with new viruses via “wet markets” where many different species of live animals are caged and sold, and by moving deeper into forests where animals live, the researchers said.
“While the direct reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 is still being sought, one thing is clear: reducing or eliminating direct human contact with wild animals is critical to preventing new coronavirus zoonosis in the future,” they concluded.

Coronavirus origin: Where did COVID-19 come from?

SAN FRANCISCO — The novel coronavirus was first discovered in China, and it rapidly spread around the globe. But where did it come from?

“Based on everything that scientists have looked at of the genetic material, of this coronavirus, the similarity is closest to a virus in a bat,” said ABC7 News Special Correspondent Dr. Alok Patel, a member of our team of coronavirus experts.

RELATED: What does COVID-19 do to your body and why does it spread so easily?

Scientists believe a bat likely infected another animal before it infected humans. The intermediary animal is still a mystery but some scientists suspect it’s likely a scaly mammal called a pangolin.

“Then the virus evolved. It changed form, and it became ready to infect humans at a large scale,” said Dr. Patel.

How it got to humans is still unknown.

“Scientists are still trying to figure it out right now, as well as trying to figure out where exactly that animal origin is because understanding this could help us understand the next pandemic,” said Dr. Patel.

The novel coronavirus is a zoonotic disease, meaning an infection that can jump between different species.

“Both SARS and MERS are examples of viruses that came from mother nature,” said Dr. Patel. “In the case of SARS, scientists believe the virus came from a bat then went to a civet cat, and then infected humans. In the case of MERS, they believe the intermediary animal was a camel.”

VIDEO: Here’s why you should practice ‘social distancing’

Humans have been fighting off zoonotic diseases forever.

“Now the World Health Organization estimates that 60% of all human pathogens have a zoonotic origin,” said Dr. Patel. “You might be saying I’ve never heard of a zoonotic disease, yes you have. Because of rabies, salmonella, West Nile Virus, Ebola, and coronavirus, this one, are all examples of zoonotic diseases.”

Some zoonotic diseases cause a mild illness while others can spread quickly, infecting, and potentially causing a lot of death. Sometimes a disease shows up and our immune systems have never seen it before, making it difficult for our bodies to fight it off.

There are many ways for zoonotic diseases to be passed around. Animal to person, person to person, in food, even in water. Even the flu is a zoonotic virus.

“We suspect the 1918 flu was an avian flu,” said Dr. Patel.

The 1918 flu pandemic is believed to have killed 50 million people and infected a third of the global population at the time. Though it was called the Spanish Flu, researchers now believe it started in the U.S., on a pig farm in Kansas.

RELATED: Here’s a look at some of history’s worst pandemics that have killed millions

Here’s what some experts believe happened: a bird with the flu and human with a common seasonal flu infected a pig. The two flus mutated in a pig and created a new virus.

“Now the reason the 1918 flu was so deadly, similar to this coronavirus, is because humans had no immunity against it,” said Dr. Patel.

That’s why understanding where the novel coronavirus came from is key to understanding how we got it. One clue might be in those spiky proteins that allow the virus to infect you. And these specific proteins work dangerously well and have never been seen before.

“This is important, this is why every single major scientific journal and authority believe that the virus came from nature, and not a lab,” said Dr. Patel.

Trafficked pangolins can carry coronaviruses closely related to pandemic strain

New research finds that Sunda pangolins, like the one pictured here in Vietnam’s Cuc Phuong National Park, could be possible hosts for future new coronaviruses.

PHOTOGRAPH BY SUZI ESZTERHAS, MINDEN PICTURES

Scientists and advocates say this new research is yet another reason to crack down on the illegal trade in these scaly mammals.

New research finds evidence that a small proportion of pangolins carry coronaviruses related to the strain responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a paper published March 26 in the journal Nature.

This makes pangolins the only mammals other than bats known to be infected by the closest relatives of the novel coronavirus. While the work neither proves nor disproves that pangolins are linked to the current pandemic, it does indicate that they could play a role in the emergence of new coronaviruses.

“If there is one clear message from this global crisis, it’s that the sale and consumption of pangolins in [live animal] markets should be strictly prohibited to avoid future pandemics,” says Paul Thomson, a conservation biologist who co-founded the nonprofit Save Pangolins.

Bats are the most likely reservoir of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV, according to the World Health Organization, but it likely jumped to another species before spilling over into humans.

Pangolins—endangered, scaly, ant-eating mammals found in Asia and Africa about the size of domestic cats—are known to carry coronaviruses, Dan Challender wrote in an email. Challender heads the pangolin specialist group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which sets the conservation status of species. It’s not surprising, therefore, that they’ve become a focus in the search to understand where the novel coronavirus came from, he says.

These six Sunda pangolins were seized from a rental property in Guangzhou, China. Researchers say that the illegal trade in live pangolins and pangolin meat must be stopped to prevent the spread of disease.

PHOTOGRAPH BY XIAO CHIBAI, NATURE PICTURE LIBRARY/MINDEN PICTURES

Although international commercial trade of all eight species is strictly forbidden, pangolins are believed to be the most trafficked mammal in the world. The scales of thousands of pangolins are smuggled every year for use in traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat is considered a delicacy by some people in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere in Asia. Because coronaviruses can be transmitted by certain bodily fluids, feces, and meat, the trade in live pangolins for food is a greater concern for disease spread than contact with scales.

In China, it’s illegal to eat pangolin, but it can still be found on restaurant menus there. Pangolins were also regularly available for sale at live animal markets until January 26, when fear of the novel coronavirus spurred the government to order them all closed.

Genetic similarities

The new paper finds that the genetic sequences of several strains of coronavirus found in pangolins were between 88.5 percent and 92.4 percent similar to those of the novel coronavirus.

Starting with tissue samples from 18 Sunda pangolins seized in anti-smuggling operations in 2017 and 2018, researchers tested for the presence of coronaviruses. They found it in samples from five of the 18 pangolins. They repeated the process later with samples from other seized pangolins, finding coronaviruses in a portion of those individuals as well. They then sequenced the genomes of those viruses and compared them to SARS-CoV-2.

Cautious in their wording, the researchers note that the genomic similarities “are not sufficient to suggest” that pangolins are the intermediate host that passed SARS-CoV-2 from bats to humans. But they don’t rule it out, either. The paper concludes, however, that pangolins should be considered as possible hosts for future new coronaviruses.

“I welcome the study,” Challender wrote. “Further research is needed on these viruses in pangolins, but importantly on other species too, which may have played a critical role in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans.”

Pangolin Says It Has More Viruses Where That Came From If People Don’t Leave It The Fuck Alone

pangolin
The ground pangolin stopped in the long, swaying grass of the African veld, and turned to face a visiting reporter who had just asked him if he was aware that a virus that appears to have originated in his species has infected tens of thousands of humans, and may yet infect countless more.

“Oh yes,” he said scratching his long nose in what is generally considered to be the universal pangolin signal that it would like some space, “And there’s a lot more where that came from if you and the rest of your horde of hairless planet destroyers don’t leave us, and all of the other animals: The fuck. Alone.”

Prized for being trapped on this planet with us, pangolins are like all creatures that have come into direct contact with human beings: immediately and horribly exploited.

Researchers say they wouldn’t test the armoured mammals.

“Or eat them. It really isn’t worth it,” says Dr. Haffa Napal, at the Kenyan Center For Not Devouring Everything You Voracious Psychopaths.

“Apart from the possibility of contracting an exotic disease, when thinking about chewing a pangolin you have to ask yourself, really? The first clue that these guys probably don’t want to be consumed is that they are covered in hundreds of tiny shields. Which sort of screams, ‘Find something else to eat. Have you tried the cassava?’”

Equipped with a tongue that is longer than its body, the pangolin is considered especially well-equipped to spread diseases that will make the entire human race wish they’d listened to Joaquin Phoenix, and become vegans while they had the chance.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the pangolin said that he’d prefer to not go into the specifics of the diseases his species stands ready to unleash on a particular predator with a penchant for cruise ships and living in extremely close proximity to one another.

“But let’s just say they’ll make that relatively benign respiratory disease that you are all hopelessly trying to quarantine right now look like a sniffle. You think coronavirus is bad? Wait until you find out about Pangola.”

 

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