Urgent call for Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) to scale up Pangolins protection in and outside Murchison Falls National Park

The pangolin is now the most heavily trafficked wild mammal in the world. In Uganda, The Uganda Wild Life Authority has reported a sharp spike in the numbers of arrests of ‘small-time’ poachers, coupled with significant larger seizures of pangolin scales.

There is an urgent need to increase the knowledge and understanding of the pangolin population in Uganda, as well as the threats to these vulnerable animals. A clear link needs to be established on how to improve targeted enforcement action that can best address the current challenges around Pangolins protection in Uganda.

Of eight species of Pangolins in the world, Uganda is home to all the four Pangolins native species to Africa, but there is a huge knowledge gap across Uganda of the importance of Pangolin.

The main threats to pangolins in Uganda are poaching and illegal hunting driven largely by an illicit international trade in the animals for their meat and scales, commonly destined for China and Vietnam. Here, the meat is consumed as a luxury dish in expensive restaurants and the scales are used in medicines believed to cure a range of medical problems including helping lactating mothers to secrete milk, to cure skin diseases and to improve blood circulation. In Africa, the mammals are sought for bushmeat or for their scales to be used in a wide variety of ethnomedicinal and spiritual uses, as well as a developing intercontinental trade in African pangolin parts, mainly scales, to Asian markets.

Conservation initiative being undertaken in Murchison Falls National park aims to address major trafficking and poaching hotspots and transit hubs for the illegal trade, brings together key government stakeholders, businesses and civil society to effect change.

Although the Uganda Wild Life Authority is already undertaking successful arrests and prosecutions of people engaged in the illegal wildlife trade and pangolin trafficking, resulting in custodial sentences being given in Ugandan court. The Uganda Wild Life Authority, still struggle with the lack of effective tools and resources needed to ensure accurate, relevant and strong legislation is applied and implemented and that relevant laws are enforced. 

With the new urgency followed with reclassification under CITES. All eight pangolin species are listed under Appendix I the highest level of protection afforded by the treaty and recognition that the species is now threatened with extinction.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM is the planet’s most comprehensive information source on the global status of animal, plant and fungus species. The Red List categorises species according to their extinction risk, which ranges from Least Concern to Extinct. To date, more than 112,000 species have been assessed on the Red List, of which 30,000 are threatened with extinction, meaning they are categorised as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered and accordingly face a high, very high, or extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

The Red List contains information on the ecology, distribution, habitat, population status, threats, and the use and trade of species, information that is vital in helping to prioritise conservation action. For example, informing what action is required and where, as well as providing information on research needs to further inform conservation activities.

Twice a year the Red List is updated, which encompasses adding species that have been assessed for the first time and updating assessments for species that have previously been assessed. Where updates occur, species may move into a different Red List category, for genuine or non-genuine reasons. Changes in the status of species for genuine reasons occur where the main threats have continued or increased and/or new threats have emerged, or where the main threats are no longer apparent and/or conservation measures (e.g., harvest management, reintroduction) have led to improvements in the status of species. Changes for non-genuine reasons happen when new information is available (e.g., on population sizes, exploitation rates) which may indicate that the level of threat is more severe than previously thought, or for other reasons, including that underlying threats, are better understood, or because there have been changes in taxonomy.

Pangolins on the IUCN Red List

Like many other species, pangolins have been included on the Red List for several years, at least since the Global Mammal Assessment in 1996. In 2013, the Pangolin Specialist Group re-assessed all pangolins for the Red List, which resulted in the Chinese and Sunda pangolins being listed as Critically Endangered, the Philippine and Indian pangolins as Endangered, and the four African species as Vulnerable. Earlier this year, the Pangolin Specialist Group and other experts convened in working groups to assess pangolins for the Red List again.

Since 2013, the profile of pangolins has grown, and much more research and conservation action is happening, meaning there are more knowledge and information on the levels of the threat facing the species. In particular, this includes evidence of the developing threat of intercontinental trafficking of African pangolin scales to Asian markets.

The 2019 assessments resulted in changes to the Red List categories for three species for non-genuine reasons, taking a precautionary approach. These assessments were informed by greater knowledge of the threat from overexploitation, including its inferred impact on populations, and habitat loss. More detailed information on these changes is presented below.

IUCN Red List categories and the criteria met for each species of pangolin in 2013 and 2019

The Albertine Watch hopes that with this new urgency followed with reclassification under CITES , Uganda Wild Life Authority will increase efforts to stop existing cartels and disrupts their operations, and also acts as a major deterrent to those considering engaging in illegal wildlife activity.

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