• Tuesday, Apr 07, 2020
  • Last Update : 08:13 pm

Will pangolins survive in Bangladesh?

  • Published at 11:45 pm February 28th, 2020
Pangolin
Courtesy: Monirul H Khan

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has marked out the Chinese pangolin as a critically endangered species

Several decades ago, pangolin, a mammal locally known as "Banrui," could be seen in several regions of the country. Today, the animal is on the verge of extinction due to continuous poaching.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has marked out the Chinese pangolin as a critically endangered species.

What officials think

According to statistics compiled by Wildlife Crime Control Unit (WCCU) of Bangladesh Forest Department, at least 14 pangolins -dead and alive- have been rescued through 10 different drives since 2016 while being illegally captured or transported.

Among the nine rescued alive, two of them died later. All the living pangolins were released in Lawachara National Park (LNP) of Moulvibazar.

Mihir Kumar Doe, director of WCCU, said drives were undertaken on receipt of information. He noted, however, that most criminals remained unapprehended as they fled the scene in the face of the drives, leaving the animals behind.

A person can be given imprisonment of between two years and 12 years while fines can range from Tk1 lakh to Tk15 lakh for killing a mammal, or collecting, preserving, buying and selling, or transporting its meat, or any parts, according to the Wildlife (preservation and security) Act, 2012.

Professor Dr M Monirul H Khan, of the zoology department of Jahangirnagar University, told Dhaka Tribune: "80% of the poaching goes unreported as only 20% of such cases are intercepted by law enforcers."

“Indian and Chinese pangolins were previously found in Bangladesh. Indian pangolins were last spotted in the 1980s, but now only Chinese pangolins exist in Bangladesh,” he said.

According to him, pangolins can be found mainly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), the hilly areas of Sylhet, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar while some can be found in Mymensingh and Kurigram too.

“Whether the species will survive or face extinction depends on the protection measures taken by the government and awareness among the people,” he added.

Are there any pangolins in CHT now?

A study conducted by Creative Conservation Alliance in CHT and Lawachara between January 2015 and February 2016 found that CHT was a haven for pangolins, with the Mro (a tribal group) people hunting pangolins for food regularly.

The study, titled “Pangolin Distribution and Conservation Status in Bangladesh”, published on April 7, 2017 on a United Kingdom based journal PLOS ONE, says they came up with the findings by interviewing pangolin hunters and using camera traps to know of the status of pangolins.

In the course of the interviews, one hunter told researchers that he had hunted 32 pangolins between 2010 and 2014.

The study shows a decline in the number of pangolins owing to poaching. Interviewing many hunters, researchers came to know that only a total of 4 pangolins were killed by Mro hunters in 2015.

The camera trap survey, however, found no sign of pangolins.

The study states that pangolins were currently more abundant in LNP than in any other area in the CHT, but the number is unknown.

Muzaffar Faisal, a biologist and co-author of the study, thinks some pangolins may exist in CHT. “But we have found no pangolin during our study and did not get any information about pangolins existing in CHT after 2015,” he said.

Hot cake for poaching : Scale price is four times higher than tiger bones?

People from the indigenous Mro community hunt pangolins for food, but commercial traders have become involved in poaching since 2010.

Prices of pangolin scales are four times  more than tiger and leopard bones while the price of a kilogram of scales is six times that of a live bear cub.

According to the study, tiger and leopard bones sell for $130 per kg and live bear cubs sell for $70. 

On the other hand, the price of a kg of pangolin scales in the CHT ranged from $250 to $500. In Nepal the price is $500-$625 for a kg.

Almost all wildlife products are sold to traders from either Thanchi or Alikadam, the towns closest to the Mro villages. These products are intended for illegal export to Myanmar, likely destined for consumption in China.

How pangolin is used

Pangolin is a delicacy in China, Vietnam and Thailand. Its scales are used in traditional medicine, the market for which is huge. 

According to the TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, a joint program of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and IUCN, every year 20 tons of pangolins and their parts are trafficked internationally.

China and Vietnam are the two primary consumer markets for pangolins. 1,000,000 pangolins are estimated to have been poached in the last decade.

What are pangolins?

The entire animal, except the face and lower part of the head and body, is covered by dark yellowish brown, large, broad and stout scales. It has a long snout and coils itself for protection.

Pangolins grow from 30cm to 100cm long, and weigh from two to 10kg. Their lifespan is about two decades.

They are nocturnal animals, roaming in the forests, digging up soil with their sharp nails in search of insects to eat, such as ants, termites and larvae.

They are important for the ecosystem as they help regulate insect populations. One single pangolin can consume around 70 million ants and termites per year. Thus, without them the ecological balance will be disrupted.

Pangolins in Bangladesh

●    Pangolins were mainly in Chittagong Hill Tracts(CHT), Hilly areas of Sylhet, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar

●    They help regulate insect populations

●    At least 14 pangolins have been rescued since 2016

●    Pangolins were hunted for food by Mro people, but the number became insignificant after 2015

●    The study titled “Pangolin distribution and Conservation Status in Bangladesh”, published on April 7, 2017 found no records of pangolins existing in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT ) after 2015

●    Price of a kilogram of pangolin scales in CHT ranged from $250 to $500 which is four times higher than tiger bones

●    China and Vietnam are the two primary consumer markets for pangolins