Simon Denyer, a senior consultant for WildAid, has kicked off a major public awareness campaign in Cameroon aimed at protecting endangered species of pangolins, backed by the Cameroonian government.
At the event, held on the eve of World Pangolin Day last month, Denyer presented the results of two studies conducted by WildAid into pangolin meat consumption in Cameroon and attitudes towards wildlife in general. The first study surveyed more than 400 consumers of bushmeat at restaurants and markets in the cities of Douala and Mbalmayo, and revealed worryingly high levels of pangolin meat consumption, Denyer said in an interview.
Around 49 percent of bushmeat consumers said they had consumed pangolin meat in the past 12 months, despite the fact that the government of Cameroon banned the killing, trade and consumption of all three endemic species of pangolin in the country in 2017, the study, entitled Understanding Urban Consumption of Pangolin Meat in Cameroon, found. Denyer said that proportion was much higher than found in similar WildAid studies conducted in neighbouring Nigeria and Gabon.
Denyer said the rapid growth of Cameroon’s cities and the popularity of bushmeat was putting unsustainable pressure on wildlife populations. “People here have lived in balance with nature for countless generations, and it is really important to restore that natural balance, before it’s too late”, he said.
The study also found that reference for pangolin meat is strong in Cameroon’s cities. Bushmeat consumers chose pangolin meat as their favorite type of bushmeat if money is not an object. They tend to see pangolin meat as fresher and healthier than ordinary meat, but the most common reason to choose pangolin meat is its taste.
Denyer also presented a second study, conducted among 1,000 randomly selected people in the cities of Yaoundé, Douala, Bertoua, Ebolowa and Mbalmayo, who were not necessarily bushmeat consumers.
The study, entitled Attitudes Towards Pangolins and Wildlife Among the General Public in Urban Cameroon, found that awareness of the 2017 law banning the killing and consumption of pangolins was very low, with only 29% of people surveyed aware of the ban.
The findings of the two studies will shape WildAid’s campaign to convince urbanites in Cameroon to #SayNoToPangolinMeat, Denyer said. He noted that many people were unaware of the threats facing pangolins, while awareness of the important ecological role they play was low. Pangolins dig holes that aerate the soil and also consume tens of thousands of ants and termites every day which could otherwise damage crops. But only 55% of city dwellers said pangolins help to maintain a healthy environment.
“The campaign aims to raise awareness of Cameroon’s own laws, as well as raising awareness of the threats facing pangolins and of the important role they play in maintaining a healthy environment,” Denyer said in an interview.
But Denyer also highlighted some “encouraging” findings in the study. In particular, pride in pangolins and wildlife is high: 93% of city dwellers said they are proud that pangolins exist in Cameroon, 92% said wildlife is important for Cameroon’s natural heritage, 87% expressed pride in Cameroon’s wildlife and 92% said deforestation was a problem.
That can provide a springboard for the campaign, Denyer said. “It’s really encouraging to see how much pride Cameroonians have in their incredible wildlife, and in pangolins specifically,” he added.
At the same time, support for protecting endangered species is high: 83% of city dwellers said Cameroon should allow hunting of common wildlife species but protect endangered ones.
The campaign was launched in partnership with Cameroon’s Ministry of Forest and Wildlife (MINFOF), the Ministry of Sport and Physical Education (MINSEP).
Pangolins in Cameroon
There are three major species of pangolins, a scaled mammal that resembles an anteater, in the country. The black-bellied pangolin, giant pangolin, and the white-bellied pangolin all play a critical role in the fragile ecosystem of Central Africa.
WildAid President, Peter Knights OBE, said pangolins are already becoming harder to find in Cameroon, and the illegal bushmeat trade could push them towards extinction.
“If it is to expand eco-tourism as the government is planning, Cameroon needs to protect its incredible biodiversity,” he said.
Bushmeat consumption is far from the only threat pangolins face. In China and Vietnam, pangolin scales are widely used in traditional medicine, despite the fact they are made from keratin, the same substance found in human fingernails, with absolutely no known medicinal value.
Demand for pangolin scales from Traditional Chinese Medicine has caused alarming drops in pangolin populations in Asia, and now pangolin scales are being widely trafficked from Africa to Asia. As a result, pangolins are now thought to be the most trafficked mammal in the world, and all international trade in all eight species was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 2017.
Denyer said he hoped greater appreciation of pangolins in Cameroon can also help reinforce the authorities’ determination to clamp down on the trafficking of scales from the country. But he said it was important to provide alternative sources of income and alternative sources of protein for rural communities, and noted ongoing projects to help rural communities raise specially-bred chickens that can provide meat, eggs and income.
Wild animals are also an important source of disease, especially when confined together in close proximity in unhygienic conditions in bushmeat markets. Under the slogan “Keep Them Wild, Keep Us Safe,” the campaign also aims to raise awareness of the health risks of the illegal bushmeat trade in spreading dangerous zoonotic diseases, such as HIV, Ebola, SARS, Lassa fever, monkeypox and COVID-19.
When asked about the potential for zoonotic diseases, only 26% reported being aware of the link between wild animal consumption and diseases like Ebola and HIV. Denyer said he hoped greater awareness of the health risks would also dampen demand for bushmeat.
WildAid has enlisted an array of Cameroonian celebrities to carry its message to the people of Cameroon, including leading musicians Stanley Enouw and LOCKO and some of the country’s most famous footballers, Rigobert Song, Roger Milla and Patrick Mboma.