Kenyan efforts to protect pangolins from extinction

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Kenyan scientists and conservationists are intensifying efforts to safeguard these elusive creatures from extinction.

“We have been able to sacrifice one pangolin to understand how the scales lose their weight and so when at the airport you are found with a suitcase or a bag of pangolin scales we can be able to determine how many pangolins are in that bag or how many pangolins did you kill, remove the scales and is trying to sell or export. If you are found with the skin of a pangolin with scales, we are able to determine which species it is and we are moving forward to know from which population you must have taken this one,” explains Benard Agwanda, a research scientist at the National Museums of Kenya.

Joshua Omele, a pangolin monitoring expert, laments the challenge of lost tracking tags: “We have lost so many tags since. That is one of the biggest challenges. One pangolin can go up to around one month with a single tag then it disappears and that is a great loss.”

Beryl Makori, programs and habitat manager at The Pangolin Project, sheds light on the dangers pangolins face from electric fences erected by farmers: “So traditionally the Maasai community would traditionally own pieces of land but in recent time this area here was demarcated and everyone was handed their title deed. What everyone did was put an electric fence around their piece of land. Pangolins do not know this, they come, they get electrocuted and the thing they can do and the only defence they have is to curl into a ball. They do that they get electrocuted continuously until they die.”

Philemon Chebet, head warden at Kenya Wildlife Service Trans Mara Station, emphasizes community awareness as a crucial step in pangolin conservation: “We are focused on doing a lot of community awareness before we do law enforcement activities to reduce the threat to pangolins in this Nyakweri forest.”

Pangolins, solitary and nocturnal creatures, face grave threats to their existence as human activities encroach upon their habitats and they fall victim to illegal trafficking. Their scales are highly sought after for use in traditional medicine, and their meat is considered a delicacy in certain regions.

Three of the pangolin species found in Kenya – the tree pangolin, the Temminck’s pangolin, and the giant ground pangolin – are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Kenya, fearing a fate similar to the northern white rhino, with only two females remaining, is ramping up efforts to protect its pangolin populations.

In response to these challenges, conservationists are employing innovative methods such as tracking pangolins through their scales and collaborating with local communities to create safe habitats. The Pangolin Project, a non-governmental organization, is working with landowners in the Nyakweri Forest to mitigate conflicts between pangolins and farmers by modifying electric fences and introducing the Habitat Lease Program.

Despite the obstacles, the Nyakweri Forest Conservation Trust has been established to safeguard pangolin habitats, covering almost 2,020 hectares. Through these collective efforts, Kenya aims to strike a balance between human needs and pangolin conservation, ensuring these scaly mammals continue to roam the African wilderness.

As the world commemorates World Pangolin Day on February 17th, Kenya’s dedication to pangolin protection serves as a beacon of hope for the future of these remarkable creatures.

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