The strong attention paid to pangolin due to the Covid-19 pandemic has raised awareness at the international level of the need to protect this endangered species. In Nigeria, the main global crossroads for animal trafficking, despite cultural opposition, pangolin defenders feel empowered and more easily advocate its exploitation.
The University of Ibadan campus is far from its usual bustle. This high place of knowledge and expertise is a hive in normal times. An autonomous city in one of the largest African cities. This year, the summer ceasefire is very calm. Since the second quarter of 2020, teachers and students have largely left the lecture halls, tutorials and laboratories due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Only a few administrative and technical staff still roam the corridors of the silent departments. Still, Professor Olajumoke Morenikeji makes it an honor to come at least twice a week. “I started a field study with a group of students,” she says, “we are going to the Omo forest in the state of Ogun. There is pangolin in the field. There are four species in Africa, they have four species in Asia. Of the four African species, two are now endangered. “
“I experienced every pangolin death as a personal drama”
It was almost by chance that this expert in zoology became one of Nigeria’s leading specialists in pangolin, an animal whose meat is plentiful wanted in Asia as well as its scales of alleged medicinal virtues. For a long time, she has been the director of the university’s zoo in Ibadan, the second largest city in the southwest, enhanced in her mission by her team’s ability to breed and preserve various animals in the enclosures. The diversity of this fauna is the source of the popular success of this zoo. Yet she realizes year after year: Pangolin is the only species that dies after a few days in captivity.
In 2016, she therefore decided to question herself and specifically examine this ant-mecophagic mammal and feed on ants like the armadillo. “I experienced every pangolin death as a personal drama. Finally, I understood that the pangolin was a solitary animal. Cannot survive outside its natural habitat. It was like a revelation. As I continued my research, I discovered that pangolin was on the verge of extinction on the planet, ”explains Professor Morenikeji.
A protected nature area dedicated to pangolin
That same year, just over three tons of pangolin scales were seized in China from Nigeria. At the time, it was the largest catch ever taken in the country. The teacher then launches a conservation program with support from his university. It was allocated several acres of a first plot in a wooded area near Ibadan.
A protected natural space that she dedicates to the pangolins still left in Nigeria: the terrestrial pangolin digs holes while the arboreal pangolin climbs trees. “The giant pangolin has almost disappeared here in the southwestern part of the country. He is much larger and taller than the other categories of pangolin. He is sometimes the size of an average dog. In addition, he stands on his two hind legs. The last test would have been seen here 20 years ago, ”explains the activist teacher.
Very close to Addo Road in Ajah, a few dozen meters from Lagos Lagoon, is a building characterized by the sounds emitted at more or less regular intervals by animals: Saint Mark Animal’s Hospital and Shelter. In the middle of a residential area, dr. Mark Ofua and his team of five people day and night to treat dogs, cats and parrots. But also mice, snakes. A baby pangolin and an adult pangolin are among the occupants of this private business.
This company is the first of its kind in Nigeria to take care of both livestock and wildlife in an enclosed area. The treatment and care areas are very different for each species. “Iretil, this baby pangolin, does not react at all to the barking of dogs,” assures Mark Ofua, we took him with us a few weeks after his birth. On the other hand, the other pangolin is completely stressed because he knows the dog is a potentially hostile predator. It will take him two days to get used to it. “
Wrapped in small blankets, the two pangolins spend their stays in individual cages. They are located in a wing of the Saint Mark refuge with pythons as the only neighbors.
Rehabilitate the pangolins
An experienced veterinarian, Doctor Ofua, nevertheless has the feeling of discovering his profession by welcoming pangolins. After a period of improvisation, the veterinarian was trained by reading books on wildlife. And also by joining the network of friends of Pangolin created by Professor Olajumoke in Ibadan.
The staff of Mark Ofua is not just an activist, but above all to help and accompany this ant-eating mammal over a short period of time. “After two weeks, we release them completely back in the wild. Not far from here I have a place that I fenced in with the support of friends in a wooded area. In the long run, this is where I plan to treat the pangolins in a natural environment. The only stress comes from giving them their medication. However, they will be able to bloom in the vicinity of two or three piles of anthills inside this cabinet, ”he hopes.
Pangolin, easy prey for poachers
From his Ibadan research laboratory, Professor Jumoke Morenikeji is still very concerned, because despite the endangered classification of this species and the attention of the Nigerian authorities, international trade in networks continues to procure pangolin in the south. west of the country, where large areas of forest abound.
Pangolin in particular is a victim of the fact that it is easy to hunt, even too easy according to her. “The only protection of the pangolin is the weight that covers its body. But since they are not harmful, even a child can pick up a pangolin. In defensive mode, the pangolin curls into a ball and stops. He does not bite or cry. Everyone can get it, ”says the expert.
Demand for pangolin scales remains strong in Southeast Asia. In 2019, a boat leaving Nigeria with nine-tonne scales on board was intercepted during its stopover in Hong Kong. Its cargo, estimated at $ 8million, amounted to about 13,000 pangolins. “I thought that by the year 2020, with the alleged links between coronavirus and pangolin, this species would be less attractive. Unfortunately, it is difficult to change deep-rooted habits. Pangolin is coveted and ingested here as a refined bushmeat. The earth here is therefore “favorable to traffickers who offer up to several hundred dollars for a pangolin, so it is difficult to resist the temptation to chase pangolin to the black market,” lamented Professor Jumoke Morenikeji. banned the import of pangolin since February 2020.
With no illusions about adult behavior, she now bases her hopes on the hundreds of school children she has received. And above all, she receives the next for teaching visits to Ibadan University Animal Park.