Interview with Professor Ray Jansen

Interview by Rory Francis – published on the website. Find the original article here

Pangolin – the venerable ‘wise old man’ of the African bush – is said to be a totem of good luck and the bringer of rain. This enigmatic creature that holds the secrets of 85 million years of evolution is now the most poached mammal on the planet. – African Pangolin Working Group

The African Pangolin Working Group is a multidimensional organisation at the forefront of protecting the four African pangolin species. APWG conducts a multitude of efforts, including retrieving pangolins from the illegal wildlife trade, pangolin rehabilitation, research, and education. Professor Ray Jansen is the chairman of the organisation and a member of the ICUN Species Survival Commission Pangolin Specialist Group. He is highly educated on a diverse range of research interests, holds a Ph.D. in Zoology, and is on a mission to conserve Africa’s Pangolins.

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.

African Pangolins are among the most trafficked species in the world. © Gareth Thomas