Pangolin protectors at the IUCN World Conservation Congress

by ZSL on

Conservation fellows from the Zoological Society of London have received awards for their work to save the most trafficked wild animal on the planet, the pangolin. 

Pangolins, also known as the 'scaley anteater' or, more jokingly, the 'walking artichoke,' are beautful small mammals that are covered in tough scales from tip to tail. They can be found in Africa and Asia where they are hunted for these scales and for bushmeat.

Linh Bao and Jonas Kambale Nyumu, award winners from ZSL’s MENTOR (Mentoring for Environmental Training and Resource Conservation) POP (Progress on Pangolin) fellowship programme, have been campaigning for increased pangolin protection.

Pangolins and those pushing for their future were given a spotlight at the world’s largest meeting for nature conservation, the IUCN World Conservation Congress, in order to tackle the threats that have left the species at risk of extinction. 

Sunda pangolin, Thailand
A young Sunda pangolin found in Thailand
The congress, held in Honolulu, Hawai’i brought together more than 10,000 participants from 192 countries to discuss the world's most urgent conservation and sustainable development challenges, and ways to address them.

One of the key issues raised was wildlife trafficking. Jonas and Linh attended the IUCN Congress on behalf of MENTOR-POP; engaging with conservationists from around the world, raising awareness about the plight of pangolins in Central Africa. 

There are eight species of pangolin in the world, three of which can be found in Central Africa. All are now in peril due to international trafficking for their scales and meat. 

Winning MENTOR POP fellows Linh Bao and Jonas Kamabale Nyumu with Dan Ashe, the Director of the USFWS
In a bid to keep them from extinction wildlife experts, including those from ZSL, have been relentlessly fighting for a total ban on any international trade of the pangolin.  

After the motion was passed at the IUCN congress calls to give all eight species this maximum protection have been heeded by over 180 countries at Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Conference of the Parties (CITESCoP), the world's most important wildlife conference in Johannesburg.

The summit brings nations together to agree on ways to tackle unsustainable wildlife trading. While this is not law the agreement to tighten protection could be the lifeline that the pangolin so desperately needs.  

At a session focused on wildlife trafficking, both Linh and Jonas presented the challenges facing pangolin conservation in Central Africa and the initiative to address threats facing the species. The session was organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Linh won the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication (CEC's) Young Professional Award at the congress; a prize recognising excellent conservation work from young professionals that is inspiring others.  

Linh and another winner, Diogo Veríssimo, with Nancy Colleton, IUCN CEC
Linh and another winner, Diogo Veríssimo, with Nancy Colleton, IUCN CEC
Linh said: “I’m an early-career conservationist. The IUCN World Conservation Congress was my first experience and chance to interact with many experts from all over the world who believe in, and are willing to support, young professionals like me.”

“They are all amazing and I’m touched to see how they put their efforts to great use to conserve pangolins. What I learned from them will help a lot in developing our group project which will be implemented in Cameroon to protect those species from Central Africa.”

“I learned more about new conservation approaches that I can apply as me and the MENTOR-POP Team, raise awareness about pangolins and pilot test efforts to reduce consumer desire for pangolins in Cameroon.” 

“When I made a speech about my work on pangolins at the award ceremony, many people were interested in it and for some of them; this was the first time they heard about these unique animals and the threats facing them. Without doubt, pangolins need more conservation attention and investment.”

Jonas gives a presentation about bushmeat in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the IUCN WCC
Jonas gives a presentation about bushmeat in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the IUCN WCC

Jonas Kamabale Nyumu has won important financial support for his pangolin work from WWF’s Education for Nature Program.

He said: “For me the congress is my big opportunity to network with global professional conservationists, especially ‘pangolin people,’ the pangolin experts! Little is known about pangolin population in Central Africa, so all the advice and shared experiences from them are very helpful for determining their distribution and abundance.”

“The WCC is not only about ‘conservation’ but also about a lot of fun! Linh and I had chances to join a conservation campus led by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior - Sally Jewell and hosted by Hawai’i-based youth conservation corps, Kupu. There we met and discussed with young leaders who have experience working on youth conservation corps... It’s all about networking with young professionals, having fun and all above, doing good things for nature and local community.”

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