By Curtis Abraham

Kampala, Feb 20 – As part of its ongoing hidden camera-trap project in Uganda, conservationists working with the United Kingdom’s Chester Zoo’s Africa Field Programme have gotten rare observations into the behavior of the Giant Pangolin (Manis gigantea).

The images and video clips of giant pangolions, one of four species in sub-Saharan Africa, were taken at Uganda’s Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, a private, non-profit, animal sanctuary in Uganda’s northwest Nakasongola district, where they share a habitat with protected rhinos and are safe from poaching.

Remote-operated cameras have observed a baby giant pangolin hitching a ride on its mother’s back, and an adult climbing a nearby tree.

The giant pangolin makes its home in the rainforests and grassland of equatorial Africa. It is  by far the biggest of all the four species measuring up to 1.8 metres and weighing up to 34 kilograms. In order to sustain this body mass, it feasts on ants and termites with its long sticky tongue.

In 2014, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), one of the governing bodies that regulate wildlife conservation in Uganda, the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA), WSS Services Uganda Limited and China Gezhouha Group Company Ltd (CGGC), conducted a survey of the giant pangolin also using camera traps and estimated that there were 2,172 individuals of the species in the country.

But no one is certain as to exact population figures. Giant pangolins are shy, elusive and secretive creatures, so much of their numbers and behavior remains a conservation mystery. Ugandan conservationists lack the necessary data to even make a decent estimate of their population.

The pangolin generally is reportedly the most trafficked mammal in the world. From 2010-2015, there has been 1,270 seizure incidents involving 67 countries/territories globally according to Traffic International. Such seizures involve pangolin body parts, the whole animal and scales.

Recently, the authorities in Malaysia seized more than 27 tonnes of pangolins and pangolin products believed to be worth an estimated £1.6 million ($2.1 million) in Borneo, in the biggest such haul in the country. In additional, some 10 tonnes of scales were also recently intercepted in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Uganda.

As with many other wild animal species, the reasons behind the consumption of pangolin body parts vary greatly between countries and communities within these countries. For example, in Vietnam, mainland China and Hong Kong, their scales are thought to simultaneously cure a hangover, treat liver conditions and help new mothers breastfeed. Pangolin meat is also viewed as a delicacy, and eaten by wealthy middle classes and corporate elite as a public display of wealth and status.

Consumer demand for pangolin products is driving highly damaging criminal activity whose detrimental social and economic impacts go far beyond just wildlife conservation

“The volume of pangolins scales being trafficked is astounding. Urgent legislative action is needed to deter traffickers from this devastating trade,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Acting Director Traffic International, Southeast Asia.

Both the legal trade data from CITES Trade Database and recent seizure data from within Uganda show an increasing demand for pangolin scales. The media, the Ugandan NGO NRCN and UWA report 20 seizures of pangolin scales from 2012 to 2016. In 2015, some 2,000 kilograms of pangolin scales were seized at Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport together with 700 kilos of ivory destined for Amsterdam in the Netherlands, according to the April 2018 Traffic International report entitled Uganda Wildlife Trafficking Assessment.