Pangolins, the world’s most traded mammal, are cared for in this wildlife sanctuary.

Pangolins live in Africa and Asia, but all eight species are endangered, killed for meat and for use in traditional medicine. In Liberia, they are commonly known as “ant bears” due to their special diet of ants and termites, and this sanctuary is their refuge.

“Since I started working with the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, I feel like the animals are a part of me,” Deh Jr. tells CNN. “So whenever I see someone hurting an animal, I feel like they are hurting me personally.”

Deh Jr. joined the shelter when it opened five years ago and says he has cared for more than 70 pangolins during that time, most of which were brought here by the Liberia Forestry Development Authority after being confiscated, transferred or orphaned. as a result of the bushmeat trade. .

Many people also live in forested areas. In Liberia, wild meat has long been eaten, from primates to civets (feline mammals), and the pangolin is considered a delicacy. Deh Jr. grew up eating an animal, which he is ashamed of today. “With a child living with parents, you have no choice because you cannot provide yourself with food,” he explains. “So even if you don’t want to eat bushmeat, you just have to.”

international trade

But in recent years, another threat to local pangolins has emerged. Susan Viper, director of the Libasa Wildlife Sanctuary, says some people are killing the animal to meet demand from China and Vietnam, where its scales are used in traditional medicine.

Between 2014 and 2018, the number of seized shipments of pangolins around the world increased tenfold. according to 2020 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Most of the seizures occurred in Asia, with the animals mostly originating in Africa. Uganda and Togo were the largest sources of pangolins, with the report noting that large seizures have recently been made in Côte d’Ivoire with Liberia as the source country. Until 2009, most pangolin scales came from Asia, and the report noted that the increase in African imports may have been due to the decline in the Asian population.
Although, according to WWF, worldwide over a million pangolins have been stolen over the past decade, Viper says it’s hard to get accurate statistics. “No one has the slightest idea about the number of animals in Liberia, so every pangolin that flies away is a real disaster,” she adds.
Pangolin being bottle fed in the reserve.

Their scaly armor protects them from almost all predators except one. “Pangolins have no natural enemies other than humans,” says Deh Jr. “If they are frightened, they curl up into a ball, and no other animal can budge through the scales. But (it) also allows people to just take it and do whatever we want with it.”

The commercial trade in these animals has been banned internationally and in 2016 The government of Liberia introduced the law making it illegal to hunt, buy, sell, capture, transport or eat protected species, including pangolins. But enforcing this law remains a challenge. Viper explains that many people simply don’t know it exists and says that education and awareness are critical to the future of conservation in Liberia.
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However, she still hopes things will change. She says the Liberia Forestry Development Authority is playing an increasingly active role in the confiscation of protected species taken from the wild.

The reserve has welcomed almost 600 animals in the past four years, from pangolins to pygmy crocodiles, monkeys and more, Viper said. She says the main goal is to rehabilitate and return to the forest as many of Liberia’s wildlife as possible.

For Deha Jr., there are few bigger awards than this one. “When you bring it back into the wild, you really feel proud,” he says. “You feel like you’re moving forward because you’re really saving small animals.”