This animal sanctuary takes care of pangolins, the most trafficked mammal in the world

This animal sanctuary takes care of pangolins, the most trafficked mammal in the world

Pangolins are found in Africa and Asia, but all eight species are threatened with extinction, killed for their meat and for use in traditional medicine. In Liberia, they are commonly called “bear ants” because of their very particular diet of ants and termites, and this sanctuary is a refuge for them.

“Since I started working with Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, I feel like the animals are a part of me,” Deh Jr told CNN. “So every time I see someone hurting (an) animal, I feel like they’re hurting me personally.”

Deh Jr joined the sanctuary when it opened five years ago and says he has cared for more than 70 pangolins, most of whom were brought here by the Liberia Forestry Development Authority after being confiscated, rendered or orphaned as a result of the bushmeat trade. .

Many people also live in forested areas. In Liberia, there is a long history of bushmeat consumption, from primates to civets (a cat-like mammal), and the pangolin is considered a delicacy. Deh Jr grew up eating the animal, which he is ashamed of today. “As a child living with your parents, you have no choice, because you cannot feed yourself,” he explains. “So even if you don’t want to eat bushmeat, you just have to.”

An international trade

But in recent years, another threat to local pangolins has emerged. Susan Wiper, director of the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, says some people kill the animal to meet demand from China and Vietnam, where its scales are used in traditional medicine.

Between 2014 and 2018, the number of pangolin shipments seized around the world increased tenfold, according to a 2020 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Most of the seizures have taken place in Asia, with the animals coming largely from Africa. Uganda and Togo were the biggest sources of pangolins, with the report noting that there had been recent large seizures in Côte d’Ivoire, implicating Liberia as a source country. Before 2009, most pangolin scales came from Asia, and the report noted that the growth in African imports may be due to a decline in Asian populations.
While the WWF estimates that more than a million pangolins worldwide have been poached in the last decade, Wiper says it’s hard to get exact statistics. “No one has a clue about the numbers in Liberia, so every pangolin that leaves is truly a disaster,” she adds.

Their scaly armor protects them from almost all predators except one. “Pangolins have no natural enemies except humans,” says Deh Jr. “If they get scared, they roll into a ball and no other animal can move between the scales. ) also makes it easier for humans to just pick it up and do what we want to do with it.”

Trade in these animals has been banned internationally and in 2016 the Liberian government introduced a law making it illegal to hunt, buy, sell, capture, transport or eat protected species, including the pangolins. But the application of this law remains a challenge. Wiper explains that many people simply don’t know it exists and says education and awareness plays a vital role in the future of conservation in Liberia.
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Nevertheless, she remains hopeful that things will change. She says the Liberian Forestry Development Authority is playing an increasingly active role in confiscating protected species that have been taken from the wild.

Over the past four years, Wiper says the sanctuary has hosted nearly 600 animals, from pangolins to dwarf crocodiles, monkeys and more. She says the main goal is to rehabilitate and bring as much Liberian wildlife back into the forest as possible.

For Deh Jr, there are few greater rewards than this. “Putting it back into the wild, you feel really proud,” he says. “You feel like you’re moving forward because you’re really saving small animals.”

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