UNODC to Nigerians: COVID-19 shows wildlife trafficking harmful

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THE United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has warned Nigerians against trafficking in wildlife, arguing that the practice endangers the health of humans and the planet.

UNODC said the outbreak of COVID-19 has been linked to a coronavirus originating in wild bats that jumped to people via an intermediary animal, with pangolins among the leading suspects.

Noting that the estimates of how many pangolins have been illegally traded in recent years are difficult to calculate, the equivalent of 370,000 pangolins were seized globally between 2014 and 2018.

Its National Project Officer, Outreach and Communications, UNODC Nigeria Country Office, Abuja, Sylvester Tunde Atere, said available figure suggested that millions of pangolins have been trafficked and killed.

The statement reads: “UNODC research shows that the source of seized pangolins is primarily West and Central Africa.

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“Pangolins offer no threat to humans in their own habitat, but allowing them to be trafficked, slaughtered and sold in illicit markets along with other wild species greatly increases the risk of transmission of viruses and other pathogens. For the sake of preserving biodiversity and preventing the next public health emergency, the illegal wildlife trade must stop.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 has been linked to a coronavirus originating in wild bats that jumped to people via an intermediary animal, with pangolins among the leading suspects. These reclusive and nocturnal mammals are killed for their meat and their scales, which have been used medicinally in both Asia and Africa. The wild meat of pangolins is considered a delicacy, sold in wet markets, which could have served as a possible ground zero for the virus.

“The majority of all emerging infectious diseases originated from animals and were transferred to humans. Wildlife trafficking contributes to the tragedy, making it a threat not only to the environment and our natural heritage, but to human health and security.

”UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly added that wildlife crime “endangers the health of our planet – and our own health”.

“Pangolins offer no threat to humans in their own habitat, but allowing them to be trafficked, slaughtered and sold in illicit markets along with other wild species greatly increases the risk of transmission of viruses and other pathogens. For the sake of preserving biodiversity and preventing the next public health emergency, the illegal wildlife trade must stop,” Waly said.

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Pangolins, he added, are the most trafficked mammal in the world, with seizures of illegal cargo originating in Africa and intended for Asian markets having increased tenfold since 2014.

The UNODC research, which included field work, was released to mark today’s International Mother Earth Day and will be included in the Office’s World Wildlife Crime Report to be published in June.

Estimates of how many pangolins have been illegally traded in recent years are difficult to calculate given that seizures represent only a small fraction of the animals killed. However, the magnitude of the illegal trade based on seizure records suggests that wild sourcing is unsustainable, while breeding of pangolins in captivity at commercial scale is currently not possible.

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Between 2014 and 2018, the equivalent of 370,000 pangolins were seized globally, suggesting that millions have been trafficked and killed.

UNODC research shows that the source of seized pangolins is primarily West and Central Africa, and more specifically Nigeria.

Illegal pangolin trade in Nigeria seems to have grown significantly in recent years. The country was the reported provenance of at least 51 tonnes of pangolin scales seized in 2019 (compared to 2 tonnes in 2015). Nigeria is the primary point of export of pangolin shipments as close to 60% of global pangolin scale seizures could be traced back to Nigeria as the source of shipping.

Out of 11 notable seizures made in 2019 and mentioned in the report, seven had Nigeria as reported origin country.

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