Pangolin in Peril: Manis javanica

PangolinFour of the eight species of pangolin are found in Southeast Asia. Manis javanica inhabits most of mainland Southeast Asia. They are adaptable creatures utilising secondary disturbed habitats and areas of fragmented primary forest where their food source of ants and termites is plentiful. They play an important ecological role as predators of eusocial insect species. They are nocturnal and will hide away in burrows during the day. Manis javanica is more arboreal than other pangolin species, climbing 20 metres above the ground using its long claws and prehensile tail.

Due to the illusive nature of Manis javanica there is little known about its ecology and life history traits. It is believed they have a life span of 8-12 years. Their gestation period usually lasts between 120-150 days and they give birth to only a single offspring each year. The mother will then stay with her offspring for 3-4 months using several den sites. Manis javanica are thought to reach sexual maturity at an age of two years, though there is little consensus on this. These traits characterise a long life history, meaning that populations are unlikely to be viable in the long term under the current unsustainable levels of exploitation they are experiencing.

Manis javanica has a long history of being hunted for its meat, skin and scales. Traditional subsistence hunting of Manis javanica for food has occurred for thousands of years without posing a serious threat to their populations, it is only within the last half century that serious regional declines have been noted in many Southeast Asian mammalian species. As the market value of wildlife and demand for wild products has increased, the populations are steadily becoming depleted, switching the harvest of Manis javanica from subsistence purposes to purely commercial trade purposes. During the 1990s several tens of thousands of Manis javanica were harvested and traded internationally and nationally every year. In February 2008 more than 23 tonnes of pangolin meat were seized from one shipment in Hai Phong in Vietnam. Manis javanica is highly valued for its meat which is a delicacy in China and Vietnam. Their scales are used for traditional medicinal purposes and their thick skins were exported internationally to be made into belts, bags and shoes. Pangolin blood is used in medicine and occasionally whole pangolins are submerged and preserved in wine which is then consumed for medicinal purposes. The scales are said to cure asthma. The market price of live Manis javanica varies greatly in different regions and countries. It also varies with the size of the animal, larger pangolins fetching a lower price per kilogram. On average a 2-4.5kg animal will fetch between $50-60 per kg, a 5-7.5kg animal between $20-50 per kg and a 7.5 kg animal or larger will fetch between $5-20 per kg. The current rate of habitat loss in Southeast Asia is threatening populations of Manis javanica, although this is largely dwarfed by the threat of illegal hunting and trade.

Manis javanica is a CITES Appendix II listed species and in 2000 a zero annual quota for exportation for commercial purposes in those countries which have ratified CITES convention was enforced.

Manis javanica is classified as endangered by the IUCN due to high levels of hunting causing a 50 percent decline in the total population over the last 15 years with projected continuing declines over the next 15 years.

TRAFFIC – The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network is an organisation that was created in 1976 to combat the illegal trade in plant and animal parts. They work closely with CITES to provide information and assistance for decision making. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia regional office undertakes research into the illegal harvesting of Manis javanica and also focuses closely on the illegal trade.

The ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network is an intergovernmental initiative between ten Southeast Asian governments to combat wildlife related crime.

National legislation protects Manis javanica in most Southeast Asian countries however it is undeniably not enforced to the extent necessary to combat the growing threat to Manis javanica from illegal trade.

Cambodia

Populations of Manis javanica range throughout Cambodia and like most Southeast Asian countries a long history of hunting and trade in wildlife exists. National trade in wildlife products occurs in the main retail areas of Cambodia. O Russei market and several restaurants in the capital city of Phnom Penh sell pangolin. Poipet is a small village about 1 kilometre from the Thai border so the market here was developed for Thai demand. Prices are lower in Poipet because no taxes are paid in Cambodia. At all of the markets in Cambodia reports of trade in Manis javanica are very common and the market at Poipet has been reported to trade many of the most endangered species in Cambodia.

The international trade of Manis javanica is very common in Cambodia despite its illegality. Thailand, Laos PDR and Vietnam are the main countries that the pangolins are shipped too. A trade route from Ban Long to Oyadau to Pleiku to Hanoi and then to China has been described and it is common that much of the trade out of Cambodia does reach the Chinese market. As well as the legitimate border checkpoints between Cambodia and its neighbouring countries there are hundreds of illegally controlled checkpoints in existence.

Vietnam

Vietnam is an important route for the illegal trade in Manis javanica in Asia, and like Cambodia, has a long history of using wildlife for meat and medicines. Vietnam forms a trade corridor connecting the southern range countries of Malaysia and Indonesia with China, the main consumer of Manis javanica. Manis javanica is found only in the southern regions of Vietnam while Manis pentadactyla occurs in the Northern region. In Vietnam hunters harvest wild pangolins or they are imported from Laos PDR or Cambodia. They are then bought by local traders and swiftly sold at regional markets outside major urban areas such as Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City. They are then bought by urban traders and are often kept in private houses being delivered to the consumers when ordered.

As with most of the range countries of Manis javanica the enforcement of environmental legislation and conservation awareness is dwarfed by the deeply embedded customs and traditions in the use of wildlife. Unfortunately, this current use is highly unsustainable and a new method of managing the conservation of Manis javanica is required in order to reduce the illegal trade that is threatening the species. Implementing a sustainable level of legal harvest needs to be encouraged to combat the underground illegal market. The current zero quota trade ban is pushing the illegal trade of Manis javanica further underground making it more difficult for nations to monitor the escalating threat and therefore research and implement effective conservation measures and law enforcement to reduce the illegal trade. Maintaining protected areas within the species range and creating new protected areas will reduce the decline in the species, moreover, measures to stop hunting and habitat destruction in these areas is urgently needed.

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