This wildlife sanctuary cares for pangolins, the world’s most trafficked mammal


A Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary In Liberia, West Africa, Juty Deh Jr is bottle feeding an orphaned baby pangolin. These small, scaly creatures are believed to be the world’s most trafficked mammals.

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

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

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

Liberia is the West Africa’s most forested country – with more than two-thirds of its land mass comprises forest. Rich in fauna and flora, these forests are part of the biodiversity hotspot of the “Guinea Forests of West Africa”, which, according to a USAID 2018 Reportit contains a quarter of all mammal species found on the continent, including 30 primate species and three of the world’s eight pangolin species.

Many people also live in forested areas. In Liberia, there is a long history of bushmeat consumption, from primates to civets (a cat-like mammal), and the pangolin is considered a delicacy. Deh Jr grew up eating the animal, something he is ashamed of today. “As a child living with his parents, he has no choice, because he can’t provide for himself,” he explains. “So even if you don’t want to eat bushmeat, you just have to.”

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This rescue center is helping the world’s most trafficked mammal

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

Between 2014 and 2018, the number of pangolin shipments seized globally increased tenfold. according to a 2020 report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Most of the seizures were made in Asia, with the animals coming largely from Africa. Uganda and Togo were the biggest sources of pangolins, and the report notes that large seizures have recently taken place in Côte d’Ivoire, with Liberia as the country of origin. Prior to 2009, most pangolin scales came from Asia, and the report noted that the growth in African imports could be due to a decline in Asian populations.

While WWF estimates that globally more than a million pangolins have been poached in the last decade, Wiper says it’s hard to get exact statistics. “No one has any idea of ​​the numbers in Liberia, so every pangolin that comes out is really a disaster,” he adds.

A bottle-fed pangolin at the sanctuary.

Their scaly armor protects them from almost all but one predator. “Pangolins have no natural enemies except humans,” says Deh Jr. “If they get scared, they roll up into a ball and no other animal can move through the scales. But (that) also makes it easy for humans to just pick it up and do whatever we want with it.”

The commercial exchange of these animals has been internationally banned and in 2016 the The Liberian government introduced a law making it illegal to hunt, buy, sell, capture, transport, or eat protected species, including pangolins. But enforcing this law remains a challenge. Wiper explains that many people simply don’t know it exists and says that education and awareness play a critical role in the future of conservation in Liberia.

However, she remains hopeful that things are changing. She says the Liberia Forest Development Authority is playing an increasingly active role in confiscating protected species that have been taken from the wild.

In the past four years, Wiper says the sanctuary has taken in nearly 600 animals, from pangolins to dwarf crocodiles, monkeys and more. She says the main goal is to rehabilitate and return as much of Liberia’s wildlife to the forest as possible.

For Deh Jr, there are few rewards greater than this. “Putting it back into the wild, you really feel proud,” he says. “You feel like you’re moving forward because you’re really saving animals.”

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