NEWS AND COMMENT: For me this is an utterly bizarre and distressing story but, that said, it is predictable as the world appears to be descending into a kind of chaos. And often the victim is wildlife, individual animals and certain wildlife species such as the pangolin. The pangolin is massively, truly massively persecuted by humankind. The reason? Because the Chinese like to think that the scales of a pangolin improve their health and the flesh is a delicacy. They incorporate the scales into their traditional medicine. There is no science to support this but because of superstitious beliefs millions upon millions are poached and slaughtered. I dread to think how they are killed. Probably brutally for another superstitious reason.
And when pangolins become more and more scarce, they become more and more valuable. When things become valuable criminals get involved even in this bizarre way. The Times has reported that Congolese rebels have captured an endangered pangolin and sent a ransom demand to conservationists. This appears to be a complete first in the animals of organised crime.
Negotiators in behalf of conservationists are attempting to secure the animal’s release without payment. The event is taking place in the eastern rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 120 armed groups have been engaged in a decade-long conflict over mineral rights and land in that region.
Proof of life pictures have been sent by the criminals of the pangolin (see above). The animal was snatched close to the edge of the Virunga National Park.
The negotiators for the conservationists say that if they pay up, they will encourage the criminals to do the same thing with other wildlife in the park and so park life will be threatened. They might start taking apes as hostages and demand more ransom money.
This “kidnapping” of a pangolin appears to be an extension of the kidnapping of humans which has risen over the past year, with aid workers and contractors being targeted by rebels. The rebels are raising funds for their war. As a consequence, there has been increased security of people which has pushed the rebels to using wildlife.
They have seen how much money is spent on conservation issues and they understand that rare animals are prized by the international community. These are the thoughts of Adams Cassinga of Conserv Congo (not a typo please note).
The forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are home to species which are found nowhere else in the world. The mountain gorillas in Virunga, a UNESCO world Heritage site, are protected by armed rangers.
The rebels issued a statement to the conservationists who contacted Conserv Congo for help. They stated “pay us and we hand it over for release, if not we will do what we want”.
It is believed that one of the oldest armed groups in the region, the Nduma Defence of Congo is responsible. They’ve yet to put a price on the pangolin’s head. Cassinga said that they are testing the market.
Pangolins are ranked as the world’s most trafficked animal. The African Wildlife Foundation estimates that up to 2.8 million are poached from Africa’s rainforests annually.
In China and Vietnam pangolin is considered a delicacy and the scales are used, as mentioned, in traditional medicine. All eight pangolin species are endangered and listed as such by the Red List.
Pangolins are a key species in the rainforest as they regulate insect populations.