Investigations have revealed that this year alone, smugglers have illegally exported pangolin scales weighing a combined 33.9 tonnes worth more than $100 million (N365 million) to Asia via Nigerian ports.
A survey conducted by wildlife trade watchdog, TRAFFIC, revealed that porous borders, lax law enforcement, corruption around the Nigerian ports helped criminal networks in Nigeria corner most of the African trade in pangolins, considered to be the world’s most trafficked mammal.
It explained that the combined 33.9 tonnes worth more than $100 million shipment to Hong Kong and Singapore this year by smugglers were intercepted.
The watchdog organization noted that less than a quarter of major pangolin seizures from Africa came via Nigeria in 2016 and by 2018, it jumped to almost two-thirds and three-quarters of the total weight seize linked to Nigeria.
“Traffickers like Nigeria more than anywhere else, they prefer to go there because it makes it easier for them to export,” said Eric Kaba Tah, deputy director of wildlife law enforcement group, The Last Great Ape Organization, based in Cameroon.
“The situation for pangolins is becoming more and more serious and even more dangerous,” said Tah, who has helped crack down on the trade in Cameroon, one of the other main pangolin trafficking routes to Asia, it was quoted by TRAFFIC.
It added that other African countries known for pangolin trafficking such as Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda have all clamped down on the illicit trade as they are now pushing pangolin traffickers towards Nigeria instead.
The watchdog agency explained that pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in some Asian markets and the hard keratin scales – the stuff of human fingernails and rhino horns – are dried, ground into powder, and used in medicines in China to treat ailments such as poor lactation, sores and rheumatism.
Demand for African pangolins in countries such as China and Vietnam has been growing as the number of Asian pangolins has dwindled over the years, to the point where two of the four Asian species are now on the critically endangered list.
The other two are endangered and all four African species of pangolin were classed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature when all commercial trade in pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, was banned in 2016.
“At the rate at which pangolins are being traded and poached, it could take two decades for the mammal to be extinct,” said Ray Jansen, Chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group in Pretoria.
However, the Nigeria Customs Service disagreed over the allegation, saying that trafficking of the mammals had reduced in Nigeria.
An official of Nigeria Customs Service, Assistant Comptroller Mutalib Sule, said the belief that Nigeria had become a pangolin trading hub was not true.
He argued that pangolin trafficking through the ports was on the decline.
“There is effort at the borders to ensure that such things do not come in again. No country had been able to stamp out smuggling altogether. Sometimes Nigeria is just a point of convergence,” he said.