Critically endangered: A pangolin roaming in the wild.
KOTA KINABALU: Conservationists here fear that a shy nocturnal creature is heading for extinction due to demand for its meat.
They say the Sunda pangolin is under threat due to a combination of factors, including illegal trade with organised syndicates linked to international networks.
Pangolins are captured for their meat and other uses, and yet not much is discussed about the fate of the species unlike that of the Bornean pygmy elephant or orang utan.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) masters student Elisa Panjang (pic), who has been studying pangolin ecology, said besides poaching, habitat degradation was also affecting the creature’s survival.
“Pangolins are quite easy to capture because they roll up into a ball when threatened.
“A study by the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, which fights illegal wildlife crime, showed that hunters in Sabah come from a variety of social backgrounds and usually hunt the animal to supplement their income,” she said.
She said an estimated 22,000 pangolins have been captured in Sabah over a period of about 14 months based on a 2010 Traffic report.
Elisa, who will undertake a PhD course on pangolins with the Danau Girang Field Centre and Cardiff University, said there was a pressing need to better understand the plight of the species, apart from educating poachers and potential hunters.
A workshop to discuss steps in creating awareness about pangolins locally will be held today at the Sabah Wildlife Department.
Dr Benoit Goossens, who is the centre’s director and also co-organiser of the workshop, hoped this would be the first step towards better protection of the Sunda pangolin in Sabah.
“It will bring researchers, wildlife officers, environmental educators and NGOs to share current trade data and conservation activities on pangolins, identify the gaps in resources and knowledge, design an awareness campaign and decide on important actions to avoid potential extinction of the species,” she said.
Due to rampant poaching, the International Union of Conservation for Nature last month upgraded the Sunda pangolin to “critically endangered” status, the worst listing on the Red List before a species is declared extinct.
In Sabah, the Sunda pangolin is currently listed as a protected animal, in Part One of Schedule Two of the state’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, which means a hunting licence is required to hunt them.
However, no hunting licence has ever been issued.