The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently welcomed two new South African conservationists into the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group.
Dr Karin Lourens, a veterinarian at the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital and Francois Meyer, Limpopo field manager for the African Pangolin Working Group joined eight other South Africans working together with pangolin experts from around the world to help save the scaly scavenger from extinction.
The IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group is a voluntary network of experts from around the world including field biologists, social scientists, zoologists, veterinarians, ecologists, and geneticists, all of whom are actively involved in pangolin research and conservation. The group works as an advisory body to IUCN and currently consists of 156 members from 37 countries.
It was re-established in February 2012 in recognition of the widespread threats to pangolins globally and to address the lack of understanding of the species and their conservation needs. Membership of the group is by invitation only, members are invited to apply and then awarded membership after a strict vetting process.
I managed to track down Dr Lourens and Francois Meyer who graciously took a few minutes away from their busy schedules to chat about their new roles at the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group.
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“Pangolin poaching is sadly getting worse. The biggest problem is that the Asian demand for this animal has not stopped.
“Catching poachers is but a tiny drop in the ocean. If the demand is not addressed, then we are fighting a losing battle.
“When you catch one poacher, another three pop up, without getting to the kingpins and the top order, this will be an ongoing cycle of horror,” Dr Lourens said.
She added that, in her opinion, “poaching, in general, is just a manifestation of the greed of humankind. We use and abuse the earth without thinking, or really caring, about the consequences. One day when we have cut down the last tree in the last green space, we might realise that something like breathable oxygen is more valuable than money.”
Francois Meyer said that “the new role entails all members sharing their knowledge and expertise on a voluntary basis.
My responsibility as a field manager at the Limpopo African Pangolin Working Group is to oversee all pangolin releases that are done within the province. I also collect data from these operations as part of my research. The pangolins I focus on are all animals which are confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade.”
On why poaching is on the increase, Meyer believes that “poaching is 100% the result of greed. It is a crime often entangled with syndicate level criminals. Those who are involved in poaching are criminals or are being used by criminals.
“We as South Africans must realise that our wildlife is a part of our culture, our countries resources, and our heritage. We are selling it out and we are losing it. We need to take the loss of wildlife due to crime much more seriously.”
How can we help?
Dr Lourens said that “we can help turn the tide by supporting anti-poaching efforts and not only by donating money. I would like communities, especially in rural areas, to be vigilant, and report poaching.
“Report the person who poached a cane rat, or a duiker etc. It starts with the smaller, common fauna and flora. In the end, poaching is poaching, whether it be a guinea fowl, a cycad or a pangolin.”
Meyer said that “the first step is education and awareness. People can only change what they can understand.
Next, people need to become more involved in conservation efforts. Conservation is not a job that only falls on the shoulders of researchers or conservationists, it is a responsibility that falls on all society.
“Nature belongs to us all and all of us need to realise we need to do our part.”