17 May 2017 Read: 359
A female Temminck’s ground (Smutsia temminckii) pangolin, also known as scaly anteater, has been seized by the authorities and three people have been arrested. The case will be heard in the Tzaneen Magistrates Court. The poachers were stealing the leaves from the tree catha edulus also known as Bushman’s Tea, in the mountains around Ohrigstad. These leaves contain a drug called cathinone and are chewed constantly creating a prolonged wakefulness and alertness. It is illegal to steal catha edulus.
Whilst stealing the leaves a pangolin, a predominantly nocturnal animal, was discovered and taken home to an impoverished township near Polokwane. In trying to sell the pangolin, the most trafficked mammal on earth, the poachers approached a farmer who, although he’d never seen such an animal, contacted the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
Most people do not know pangolins as they are such shy and unobtrusive animals. Prince Harry from the UK famously said, “When the pangolin goes extinct, most people won’t even know what it looked like.”
Negotiations began at this low level but failed. Then a Reserve was called in to assist. The manager offered the poachers a substantial amount of money and the arrests followed shortly thereafter. It’s believed that this pangolin had been out of her natural environment for the past three days. She has subsequently been released into a reserve.
There is another pangolin case pending in the Tzaneen Courts but there’s a warrant out for Mr Chauke’s arrest as he’s skipped his court appearance. He poached a pangolin from the Venda area.
There are four pangolin species in Asia and another four in Africa. As recently as 2016, CITES moved all eight pangolins onto Appendix 1 of the CITES list. This means that any trade in pangolins and/or their body parts is now illegal. One million pangolins have been poached in the last decade. Twelve tons of scales have been intercepted leaving Africa for Hong Kong in 2016 alone.
As pangolin populations in Asia dwindle, more and more are now being captured in Africa to meet the ever-growing Chinese and Vietnamese demand.
The pangolin shell is so tough that it can resist the teeth of lions, tigers and leopards. It rolls up into a tight ball when threatened. Pangolin scales are made of keratin but are an important ingredient for centuries’ old traditional Asian medical remedies. Pangolin meat is often prized as a delicacy at banquets or restaurants in China and Vietnam. Ideally, the live pangolin is presented at the dinner table before the chef slits its throat in front of the guests, as a guarantee of the meat’s freshness.