A foremost conservationist has listed the top states where pangolins can be found in Nigeria.
It is believed that all African pangolins — the ground, giant, white-bellied, and black-bellied pangolins — are found in and live in different environments.
According to Stephen Aina of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), pangolins are more prevalent in the Middle-Belt and South-West because both regions have a higher concentration of termites — the primary food for pangolins.
“We have confirmed a high number of pangolin presence in Middle-Belt states like Kogi, Kwara, Benue, Niger and Taraba, where Nigeria’s largest national park Gashaka-Gumti is situated,” Mr Aina said.
“In the South-West, they are regularly cited in Omo Forest Reserve, Ogun State; Oluwa Forest Reserve, Ondo State; and Old Oyo Forest Reserve in Oyo State.”
Mr Aina, who is the project head at the Lekki Conservation Centre in Lagos, said the pangolins are in those states because they can easily get access to termites.
“Pangolin cannot survive in swampy and water-logged areas, they only live in places where there are termite muds and ants,” he said.
Mr Aina said a pangolin can consume up to 70 million insects in a year, which would be difficult to find in urban areas. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has categorised pangolins as endangered species.
The world body also recognises Nigeria as the number one country in illegal pangolin trade and seizures, a crisis Nigerian government has not been able to address despite strong protests from experts.
“We found out that pangolin scales were illegally transported from Omo Forest Reserve to Ifo, near Lagos, where they were seized,” Mr Aina said. “But it came as a shock to us when we later learnt that the scales were returned to illicit traders who then shipped them overseas.”
China has been deemed as the primary destination of a large chunk of the scales, where a market for traditional medicine has continued to boom.
Mr Aina called on Nigerian authorities to do more to preserve pangolins, saying their existence represents great benefits to the ecosystem.
Mr Aina said it was difficult to estimate how many pangolins have been lost to illegal poaching and trading due to scarce data, but experts agree that primitive hunting by locals and a cartel of international smugglers has reduced the population greatly in recent decades.
Still, efforts are underway to conduct a scientific study as part of efforts to save the species, Mr Aina said.
“In recent years, we have introduced 10 pangolins that were rescued by some women into the Lekki Conservation Centre forests, and they have been surviving very well,” Mr Aina said.
“The reason why they are so difficult to nurture away from the wild is because they can not do without termites.”