Nationonline (Nigeria)

As the world marks the World Wildlife Day, the Minister of Environment Suleiman Hassan Zarma has expressed worries at the rate which the country’s wildlife stock is being depleted.

Speaking against the backdrop of a recent report that more than $8 million worth of elephant tusks and pangolin scales were confiscated by Hong Kong customs from a shipping container coming from Nigeria, making it the biggest seizure of pangolin scales, by value and weight, the minister said this was unfortunate.

According to him: “It was very unsettling when information was received that the Vietnamese Customs made the discovery in concealed containers declared as ‘consigning knocked wood’…..

“More disturbing is the fact that Nigeria was mentioned as the source in spite of our laudable conservation efforts which informed our leading the war against illegal Wildlife Trade in the West African Region.”

Over the last twelve months, a total of 25 tons of ivory and pangolin scales were seized in Asia which allegedly originated from Nigeria while 13 tons of pangolin scales were seized in Nigeria.

This is a sharp increase from the almost eight tons of pangolin scales seized by States parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016 and 2017.

Pangolins are believed to be the world’s most trafficked mammal and are being hunted for various purposes, including food, traditional medicines, fashion accessories and are considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia.

While international trade in pangolins was banned in 2017, after the animal received the highest level of protection against illegal trading by CITES, high demand for such products in Asia continue to make it a very profitable illicit business for wildlife traffickers.

According to UNODC’s World Wildlife Crime Report (2016), whole pangolins in Nigeria can range in price from US$7 to US$15 while their scales alone would sell for as much as US$250 per pangolin in the destination markets.

Pangolins smuggled to Asia are unlikely to originate from Nigeria as the species is near extinction in the country. However, it appears that Nigeria might risk evolving rapidly into a transit hub for illicit wildlife products, including pangolins, elephant tusks and other protected species, destined for countries in Asia as well as Europe, the Middle East and North and South America.

Tackling this phenomenon is complex and requires the cooperation of multiple stakeholders within and beyond Nigeria, including Customs, Police and National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESRA), as well as the World Customs Organization, Interpol and the CITES secretariat.

However, to tackle this menace, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2014 launched its Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime.

The Programme, according to Mr. Sylvester Atere, Outreach and Communications Officer, UNODC, is designed to support States to more effectively prevent, identify, investigate, prosecute and adjudicate wildlife and forest crime.