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The Butterfly Effect: Can Losing a Single Pangolin Affect Us?

Recent news about a poacher trying to sell a small pangolin to a restaurant owner has made many people feel sick to their stomach.

It has exposed yet again the crime against wildlife committed by individuals who believe they can make easy money. And also by those who either crave for their meat or driven by superstitious beliefs that some parts of their body have medicinal value.

Thankfully, the “weak” and surely traumatized pangolin was spared the butcher’s knife after the restaurant owner, who noticed that the 2kg mammal was still small, negotiated with the poacher to sell it to him at a discounted price of RM200. He immediately handed it to the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit.

According to the report, he had been approached several times before by poachers trying to sell pangolins. He despised their criminal act, describing it as “sinful.”

He also revealed that the sale of pangolins was rampant and that poachers would usually call restaurants and they would sell them to the highest bidders.

Despite knowing that pangolins are protected species, some restaurants he said would still buy them if they have regular customers who eat them.

Although the restaurant owner had shown compassion to the animal, Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director Augustine Tuuga was not very pleased.

He reminded that buying a pangolin or any other protected wildlife even with the intention to rescue it would only encourage wildlife criminals to carry out illegal hunting.

In fact, he said purchasing a fully protected wildlife and plants is a crime, unless the purchaser has a written consent from the authorities.

Augustine instead advised the public to report any crime against wildlife to the SWD without delay.

The unidentified poacher in the news report was RM200 richer that day and who knows if and when he would capture the next pangolin or any other wildlife again. The temptation is hard to resist as the sale is quick and the money is good.

Some people are of the opinion that he might be used to committing the crime.

“If I was the restaurant owner I would have secretly taken his picture and report him to SWD. He must be brought to justice if not he continues to be a dangerous threat to wildlife,” says a member of the public.

According to the news report, the poacher had told the restaurant owner that the pangolin was captured during a hunting expedition either in Kimanis or Papar.

“I feel sick to my stomach. SWD, please hunt this person down or whoever else was involved,” says another.

Some are worried that with the borders reopening, tourists will flock to the state again and the pressure on wildlife will resume. No one can tell if any among them would come drooling for pangolin meat or any other wildlife.

An expatriate, who has been living in Sabah for more than 20 years, finds it disturbing to see that while wildlife has been a strong tourist attraction in Sabah, some have come to eat them.

“Our selling point is conservation and protection of wildlife. But some of these visitors want to eat them and this creates a demand that only encourages illegal hunting. This is so disgusting,” he says.

Pangolins are believed to be the most trafficked mammal in the world. The rate at which they are traded across international border is staggering.

Some suggest that there is a need to aggressively promote the science behind to create a better public understanding why protection and conservation of pangolins and wildlife in general is super important.

Scientific literatures have emphasized that pangolins play a more important role in the ecosystem that people think. According to Pangolins.org, they provide pest control. It says that a single pangolin consumes 70 million insects a year, or 191, 780 per day.

‘These pangolins help to control ant and termite populations, control their insect prey’s numbers and contribute to the delicate balance of the ecosystems they inhabit.’

‘They are also natural soil caretakers, improving the nutrient quality and aids the decomposition cycle and in return allows more foliage to grow in the enriched soil.’

Some may think that information like this may not be so relevant to their day-to-day concerns. Perhaps it is enough to know that everything is inter-connected. What happens to a pangolin affects the ecosystem and over time, this will come to affect humans, for better or for worse.

“Some crooks may take a single pangolin to make a quick profit. We may not feel the effect immediately but some day our children and their children might have to pay the price for that single loss. Let’s think about it,” says a concerned citizen.

It is called the butterfly effect, which is the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.

Photo credit: Elisa Panjang

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