The pangolin trade explained: situation in Cameroon

By Deng Eric Meleh, on May 2, 2019

What is Cameroon’s role in the illicit trade in pangolins?

Cameroon is home to three species of pangolin (giant pangolin, white bellied and black-bellied pangolin), which are among the four species found in Central Africa. No documentation exists on the exact year when the illicit trade started in the country. Besides being a source, Cameroon also serves as a transit point for pangolins which have been illegally hunted in neighboring Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. Seizure records show that Cameroon, along with Nigeria,  is one of Africa’s biggest exporters of pangolin scales, which are mostly shipped to Asia.

How big is the estimated pangolin population?

There are no available statistics on the exact population figures of pangolins in Cameroon. However, experts say there has been a decline in the number of pangolins,  given the large numbers of scales and other animal parts  that wildlife officials have seized recently from hunters and traffickers. The illegal trade for their meat and scales is driving them closer towards extinction.

According to Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA) some 7,500 kilograms of pangolin scales have been seized in Cameroon in the last five years.

A recent seizure took place on  18 March 2019 when two tons of pangolin scales were seized and four traffickers arrested in the country’s economic capital, Doula.

What is the major use of pangolins? What are they hunted for?

In the past, most people hunted pangolins in Cameroon as a local delicacy “bush meat”.  Things changed in the early 2000s when an illicit global market for pangolin and their scales opened up. There is growing demand for their scales in Asia, where they are believed to have medicinal value.

Are there laws that ban the farming, poaching or selling of pangolins? What is the legal situation?

Pangolins fall under Category A of Classified Wildlife Species in Cameroon. All CITES Appendix I are automatically listed in Class A, which means Cameroon’s pangolins are fully protected by law.

The wildlife law that governs the sector clearly states that anyone found in possession of parts of a totally protected species is liable to a prison term of one to three years and or a fine of FCFA Central African CFA franc? 3 million to 10 million.

The Cameroon government supported uplisting all pangolins to Appendix I of CITES, which went into effect in January 2107, prohibiting all commercial international trade of pangolins.

Have there been prosecutions? Have there been any court cases?

Statistics obtained from LAGA show that some 407 traffickers in pangolin scales and body parts have been arrested in the last 10 years in Cameroon. While most of them were sentenced to a prison term, others are still pending. Two Chinese nationals were sentenced to three months imprisonment by the Bonanjo Court of First Instance, Douala, in January 2017 after being caught with over five tonnes of pangolin scales ready for illegal export.

A Nigerian national, Anthony Nwabu Nwanne, was sentenced to 75 days imprisonment by the Bertoua Court of First Instance in March 2017 for trafficking in pangolin scales. He was found with five bags of pangolin scales weighing over 200 kilograms. Also in 2017, Nwana Doh Felix and Ndjoheu Jean Marie, both Cameroonians, were sentenced to three months imprisonment for trafficking over 128 kilograms of pangolin scales. They were arrested in Ngaoundal, Adamawa region in August 2016 as they attempted to sell the scales. These cases are just a few among several traffickers who have been prosecuted in Cameroon, as the government steps up efforts to clamp down on the illicit trade.

Who are the people involved in the pangolin trade? Who they sell the pangolin to and for how much;?ell stories based on earlier reporting

Traffickers and poachers from Cameroon, Nigeria, China, Central Africa Republic, Italy, Ghana, Mali, and Egypt have been arrested in connection with the illicit pangolin trade in Cameroon, since the ban on the poaching of the animal species was instituted, according to LAGA.

Pangolins are mostly killed by hunters in local communities near forest reserves. The trade is said to be mostly driven by high prices offered by smuggling syndicates. Traffickers pay local poachers between FCFA 12,000-13,000 per kilogram for small scales and FCFA 25.000 to FCFA 35.000 for large scales.

These enticing price levels are further driving the killing of pangolins as those involved in the illicit trade seek to make significant financial benefits.

Deng Eric Meleh

Deng has been a radio and print journalist for the past eight years. Since 2018, he has worked for Green Echoes 一 wri…