Pangolins — also known as scaly anteaters—are mammals of the order Pholidota. But a good number of people from Gabon seem to care only about its gastronomic, medical and enterprise benefits.
Even though the present COVID-19 outbreak has been traced to these rather shy creatures, Gabonese beg to differ. Which is why the selling and buying of the animals continues as usual, but stealthily.
A team of Chinese researchers have proposed that the pangolin could be a carrier of the novel coronavirus which now has the world on its knees and thousands of deaths to its name.
The researchers suspect these animals transmitted the virus to humans in a game market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where’s the epicenter of the pandemic.
According to the National Geographic, there are 8 species of pangolins, 4 in Africa and 4 in Asia, all of which are in danger of extinction driven by the illegal trade.
Pangolins are an endangered species, but a market in the capital city of Gabon, Libreville, is still cashing in on its trade. More so, it is high-priced because the animal’s meat is a delicacy in the West-Central African country.
However, most of their customers are Chinese, most of which in turn are also interested in the scales that cover the pangolin’s tail to give it an artichoke look.
In Nigeria, for example, one pangolin can sell for as little as USD 7. But once in China or Vietnam, the scales from one animal alone can fetch USD 250, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Trading pangolins in Gabon is illegal, but sales continue as though there are no laws prohibiting it. As of now, merchants are hiding their stocks, not in fear of being caught, but because of the COVID-19 scare—whose cases in the country are now 7.
Sales, now done behind closed doors, have ridiculously plunged. The high price has been a boon to central African hunters, who consider the pangolin as the cherry on the cake when hunting.
While pangolin trade in Gabon is informal, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo are considered hubs for the animal’s trafficking. The Gabonese pangolin’s price has soared in recent years, which is why traders aren’t ready to close up shop on the animal.
According to wildlife trade watchdog TRAFFIC, less than a quarter of major pangolin seizures from Africa came via Nigeria in 2016. By 2018, that had jumped to almost two-thirds and three-quarters of the total weight seized was linked to Nigeria.
“We’ve been eating pangolin for years — don’t bring the disease here. “We’d been told about monkey, which would give Ebola, and yet we kept eating it and never got that,” said Melanie, a vegetable seller at the Libreville market.
Pangolin trade is prohibited across the world, because the animal is the most-poached in the world. In 2019 alone, Hong Kong and Singapore intercepted 3 bogus shipments of pangolin scales weighing a combined 33.9 tonnes and worth more than USD 100 Mn.
Featured Image: Reuters