Government of Cameroon hosts Africa’s first-ever public burn of seized pangolin scales

Destruction of three tonnes of illegally-poached scales sends powerful message to poachers. 

White-bellied pangolin (c) Tim Wacher, ZSL
White-bellied pangolin

Ahead of World Pangolin Day on 18 February, the government of the Republic of Cameroon will today conduct Africa’s first-ever public burn of confiscated pangolin scales, marking the country’s commitment to the conservation of the world’s most heavily-trafficked wild mammal.  

Facilitated by conservationists from ZSL alongside a number of other non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners and hosted by Cameroon’s Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Ngole Philip Ngwese, the event will see the destruction of three tonnes of scales from these threatened ‘scaly anteaters’- equivalent to an estimated 6,000 individual animals. 

These scales were all seized from poachers and traffickers and are being burned to publicly condemn this devastating illegal trade, and underline Cameroon’s commitment to ending it.

Seizure of pangolin scales and body parts
Seizure of pangolin scales for sale in China

Found in forests and savannah of Africa and Asia, all eight species of pangolin are currently declining across their range due to poaching. More than one million pangolins are thought to have been traded illegally over the past decade, and seizures of large quantities of scales from African pangolins are becoming increasingly commonplace in Asian markets.

Pangolin scales – which are made from keratin, the same material as human fingernails and rhino horn – are used in traditional Asian medicine, with China and Vietnam representing the main destinations for illegal shipments from Africa. Pangolin meat is also regarded as a delicacy in some markets, both in Africa and Asia.

International trade in all pangolin species is currently banned after all the eight species were listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in October 2016.

Pangolin scale burn in Cameroon
Pangolin scale burn in Cameroon

ZSL conservationist Francis Tarla is one of the event’s coordinators and director of the MENTOR-POP (Progress on Pangolins) Fellowship Programme, a program developed and funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with ZSL that works to increase pangolin conservation efforts in Central Africa. Tarla said: “Cameroon has taken the lead as a global champion for conserving pangolins. With this burn event, they are sending a strong message to the world condemning the devastating trade and encouraging other national governments to join the fight and protect our pangolins.

“However, government action alone cannot solve this crisis. The engagement of local communities, NGOs and industry at local, regional and international levels will be indispensable in order drive awareness, change behaviour and reduce consumer demand for both pangolin scales and meat.

“In partnership with the Cameroon Government and our NGO allies, ZSL is calling for countries across the pangolins’ range in Africa and Asia to collaborate and save this enigmatic species before it is too late.”

Find out more about our work to protect pangolins in Cameroon and beyond, and make a donation to help fight illegal wildlife crime. 

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