Professor Ray Jansen is the Chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group and is working to protect the four African Pangolin species. © Gareth Thomas
How did your passion for protecting wildlife and, in particular, Pangolins begin?
I’ve been passionate about wildlife and the African savannahs since I was a young boy. I was introduced to pangolins in 2009 when a past student requested me to supervise his master’s study on the Temminck’s pangolin in the Kalahari. I was immediately bewitched by these mysterious creatures. At this time, I realised how much trouble they are in and subsequently founded the African Pangolin Working Group; the first organisation of its kind directly focused on hands-on work in reducing the illegal trafficking of pangolins.
Two of the four African species were recently reclassified from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ why is it so crucial that pangolins are protected?
The only direct threat to the entire pangolin Order (the Pholidota) is persecution at man’s hands. Pangolins are the most trafficked mammals in the world, and for this reason alone, it is our responsibility to combat this illegal trade and to reverse their declining numbers.
Why are Pangolins poached so heavily, and how valuable are they?
Pangolin scales are ground up into a powder and used in various cultural medical and spiritual remedies in Asia, particularly China. I have identified 60 different commercial products that hold this powder as an ingredient in China, and these products are manufactured and sold at an industrial level in vast quantities. In 2019 alone, I recorded more than 97 tons of pangolin scales leaving the African continent destined for Asia, equivalent to more than 150,000 African pangolins. If this volume of trade continues unabated, all eight species may be declared extinct within the next two decades. Females only have one pup a year, so the recruitment to natural pangolin populations is very low, and they will not survive this onslaught.