As World Pangolin Day is marked around the globe, some conservationists in South Africa are working to protect the endangered animals, including caring for some which have been rescued from traffickers.
The eighth annual pangolin day is celebrated to raise awareness about the shy, nocturnal scaly anteater, which has been named as the world’s most trafficked animal by some wildlife organisations.
In South Africa, traffickers often sell pangolin meat locally and ship the scales to Asia, where they are in demand for use in traditional medicine.
The growing illegal trade has prompted plans in South Africa for a rehabilitation centre for sick or rescued pangolins as well as the deployment of sniffer dogs specially trained to detect the scales’ pungent aroma.
Africa’s four species of pangolins are under increasing pressure from poachers because Asia’s four species have been badly hit, according to experts.
While commercial trade in all eight species is forbidden, international confiscations of African pangolin scales amounted to about 47 tonnes in 2017, more than double the quantity seized in the previous year, according to the African Pangolin Working Group.
Dogs have been trained to check for hidden pangolin scales at South African borders and there are plans to create a “pangalorium” — a research and medical centre for pangolins, including the growing number of live animals seized in sting operations.
Pangolin scales contain keratin, a protein also found in rhino horn and human fingernails.
There is no scientific proof that they provide any medicinal value.
Conservationists say more than one million pangolins have been poached since around 2000; the various kinds range from vulnerable to critically endangered on a list of threatened species.