Emmanuel Badejo, Indpendent Newspapers Limited
The United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC), has expressed worry over trafficking of wildlife in Nigeria, urging the nation and other stakeholders to step up urgent action that would checkmate the trend.
UNODC made the call on Sunday at the occasion of World Wildlife Day, which it marked in Abuja.
According to the UN body, late January this year, more than US$8 million worth of elephant tusks and pangolin scales were confiscated by Hong Kong customs from a shipping container coming from Nigeria, making this the biggest seizure of pangolin scales, by value and weight, ever in the city.
The body added that another incident back in October 2018 led Vietnamese authorities to intercept more than eight metric tons of pangolin scales and ivory, also arriving from Nigeria.
It noted that following the happening, the Minister of Environment in Nigeria, Suleiman Hassan Zarma stated “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 past 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 marks 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, it said, are believed to be the world’s most trafficked mammal and are being hunted for various purposes, including for 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.
UNODC revealed that 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 to evolve 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”, the UN body added.
Though UNODC said the challenge to check this trend was huge, it, however, believed that, with the nation’s readiness and other stakeholders’ involvement, Nigeria could control illegal movement of wildlife.
“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.
“Building up the specialized detection and investigation capabilities within the relevant law enforcement agencies takes time and is resource intensive. Bringing the legal framework into full compliance with CITES requirements is another challenge.
“Moreover, understanding fully the role of transnational organized crime in the illicit trade of wildlife and forestry products is crucial both from a policy and operational perspective.”