Besides working in rural communities, schools, law enforcement, the judiciary and pangolin care and rehabilitation, applied scientific research in an integral and vitally important component of pangolin conservation. Research undertaken throughout Africa on the four pangolin species if often undertaken by postgraduate students enrolled for masters and doctoral degrees through various Universities and supervised by one of the African Pangolin Working Group board members. The findings of this research are published in international scientific journals and made available to the judiciary, nature conservation authorities and the scientific community to implement conservation management strategies for Africa’s pangolins through each species range.
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Temminck’s ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) is one of four species of pangolin, endemic to Africa. Two of the African pangolin species are listed as vulnerable and two are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species due to their ongoing exploitation for traditional medicine and bushmeat. In this study, we developed 30 species-specific short-tandem repeats (STRs) in Temminck’s ground pangolin using next-generation sequencing. The markers were also optimized for crossamplification in other African species. All the markers amplified successfully in Temminck’s ground pangolin with allelic polymorphisms observed in 87% of the markers in giant pangolin (S. gigantea) whereas 60% of the markers were amplified polymorphic loci in both whitebellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) and black-bellied pangolin (P. tetradactyla). Analysis of diversity estimates showed moderate levels of variability in Temminck’s ground pangolin (Na = 5; Ho = 0.559), giant pangolin (Na = 4.909; Ho = 0.514) and white-bellied pangolin (Na = 2.686; Ho = 0.541) with lower values being observed in black-bellied pangolin (Na = 3; Ho = 0.242). This study provides data of the first available STR markers which was amplified in all four African pangolin species that can now be used in conservation genetic and evolutionary aspects of population histories.
Keywords. microsatellites; African pangolin; Temminck’s ground pangolin; Smutsiinae; Smutsia temminckii
Throughout its range, Temminck’s ground pangolin, Smutsia temminckii, is becoming increasingly threatened, predominantly as a result of anthropogenic pressures. This species is currently listed as Vulnerable in South Africa and Least Concern globally, although many assessment criteria are data deficient and thus hamper an accurate assessment of its actual status. Current knowledge of the threats faced by Temminck’s ground pangolin largely stem from a handful of ecological studies and ad hoc observations. Here we synthesize data on the known threats faced by this species in southern Africa and highlight a number of new threats not previously recognized. The main threats faced by this species include electrocution on electrified fences, the traditional medicine (muthi ) trade, habitat loss, road mortalities, capture in gin traps, and potentially poisoning. Electrocutions arguably pose the greatest threat and mortality rates may be as high as one individual per 11 km of electrified fence per year. However, the magnitude of the threat posed by the muthi trade has not yet been quantified. Most southern African countries have adequate legislation protecting this species, although implementation is often lacking and in some instances the imposed penalties are unlikely to be a deterrent. We propose mitigating actions for many of the identified threats, although further research into the efficacy of these actions, and the development of additional mitigating procedures, is required.
Key words: Smutsia temminckii, Manis temminckii, electrocutions, traditional medicine, international trade, legislation, mitigation.
Temmincki’s ground pangolin is primarily a nocturnal mammal belonging to the order Pholidota. The body is covered in hard overlapping scales and these animals find refuge in burrows, feeding only on termites and ants. In this study, the whole mtDNA of Temmincki’s ground pangolin was sequenced and the phylogenetic position of Pholidota determined within Eutheria, using whole mtDNA sequences from various representative species. The results indicate that the whole mtDNA of Temmincki’s ground pangolin is 16,559 bp long and shared some similarities with the whole mtDNA of the back-bellied tree pangolin and the Chinese pangolin. Phylogenetic analysis indicate that the order Pholidota is closely related and share a recent common ancestor with the order Carnivora rather thanwith the ant/insect eating order Xenarthra and the group Afrotheria. A time measured phylogeny of Pholidota estimated a split from Carnivora at around 87mya, followed by a split of the African pangolins from their Asian counterparts such as the Chinese pangolin at around 47 mya. This suggests a Laurasian origin and convergent evolution of the Pholidota with respect to Xenarthra and Afrotheria.
Keywords: Mitochondrial DNA; Temminck’s ground pangolin; Smutsia temminckii; Phylogeny
All previous behavioural studies of Temminck’s ground pangolins (Smutsia temminckii) have focused on populations in mesic regions. We examined home range size, activity periods,
habitat selectivity and refuge site selection of 13 individuals over three years in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa, near the western edge of the species’ range. Kernel home ranges of adults averaged 6.5 ± 5.9 km², while juveniles had average home ranges of 6.1 ± 4.0 km². Reliable prediction of 95% of the Kernel home range required 88 ± 67.7 tracking days. No significant habitat selectivity was observed. Earthen burrows were the most frequently used refuge type. The time at which activity commenced varied seasonally as well as among individuals, with an increase in diurnal activity during winter. Young pangolins also displayed more diurnal activity compared to adults. Individuals spent 5.7 ± 2.0 hours per 24-hour cycle outside of refuges, with no significant seasonal variation. Juvenile dispersal peaked during
mid-summer, with individuals travelling up to 49 km from their natal areas. We estimate a breeding density of 0.16 individuals/km2 and a total density of 0.31 individuals/km2 for our study area. Our data suggest that activity patterns, movements and refuge selection is similar across the species’ southern African range, but that densities may be higher in the Kalahari compared to populations in more mesic eastern areas.
Keywords: Smutsia temminckii, Manis temminckii, home range, habitat selection, densities.
Background: Pangolins (Manidae) have long been used for traditional medicinal purposes in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa. However, very little is known about the extent of this use, the body parts that are used and the ailments these practices are attempting to cure or alleviate. Pangolin body parts are used extensively and frequently by traditional medical practitioners in Sierra Leone.
Methods: A total of 63 traditional medical practitioners consented and were interviewed using semi-structured questionnaires on the traditional medicinal use of pangolin body parts. The use value, informant agreement ratio and use agreement value for each pangolin part was calculated to ascertain the most sought after body part, the level of knowledge dissemination among traditional medical practitioners about body parts and the most culturally significant body part.
Results: It was found that 22 pangolin parts are used to treat various ailments and conditions under 17 international categories of diseases. The highest use value was recorded for scales while eyes had the highest level of consensus among the traditional medical practitioners. The highest use value and informant agreement ratio for scales were recorded for spiritual ailments. Scales were the most culturally significant body part according to the use agreement value.
Conclusion: This study indicates a high importance value for pangolins as part of these communities’ spiritual, cultural and medicinal beliefs. However, the numbers of individuals harvested from the wild remains unknown and unregulated even though pangolins have been listed under Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Conservation Act, 1972, of Sierra Leone, which prohibits any person from hunting or being in possession of pangolins. It is likely that this unregulated harvesting and poaching of this threatened species, for medicinal purposes, is unsustainable and there is an urgent need to determine pangolin population abundance within this region to ensure their sustainable harvesting for cultural use and conservation.
Keywords: Pangolin scales, Pangolin body parts, Spiritual ailments, Conservation, Sierre Leone
Traditional medicine has been practised in Ghana for centuries with the majority of Ghanaiansstill patronising the services of traditional healers. Throughout Africa a large number of people use pangolins as a source of traditional medicine, however, there is a dearth of information on the use of animals in folk medicine in Ghana, in particular the use of pangolins. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalent use of pangolins and the level of knowledge of pangolin use among traditional healers in Ghana for the treatment of human ailments. Data was gathered from 48 traditional healers using semi-structured interviews on the traditional medicinal use of pangolin body parts in the Kumasi metropolis of Ghana. The cultural importance index, relative frequency of citation, informant agreement ratio and use agreement values were calculated to ascertain the most culturally important pangolin body part as well as the level of knowledge dissemination among traditional healers with regards pangolin body parts. Our study revealed that 13 body parts of pangolins are used to treat various medicinal ailments. Pangolin scales and bones were the most prevalent prescribed body parts and indicated the highest cultural significance among traditional healing practices primarily for the treatment of spiritual protection, rheumatism, financial rituals and convulsions. Despite being classified under Schedule 1 of Ghana’s Wildlife Conservation Act of 1971 (LI 685), that prohibits anyone from hunting or being in possession of a pangolin, our results indicated that the use of pangolins for traditional medicinal purposes is widespread
among traditional healers in Ghana. A study on the population status and ecology of the three species of African pangolins occurring in Ghana is urgently required in order to determine
the impact this harvest for traditional medical purposes has on their respective populations as current levels appear to be unmonitored and unsustainable.
The diet of Temminck’s ground pangolin Smutsia temminckii (hereafter, pangolin) has thus far been studied only in mesic savannahs. We provide arid-zone dietary data for this species based on direct observations, and compare these to available prey species assemblages. We also report stable carbon and nitrogen isotope enrichment values for liver and scales obtained from pangolin carcasses compared to the diet. Pangolins were recorded consuming four ant (Anoplolepis steingroeveri, Camponotus fulvopilosus, two Crematogaster spp.) and one termite (Trinervitermes trinervoides) species, which represent 7.5 and 25% of the available ant and termite species respectively. The stable isotope data corroborate the direct observations and confirm that pangolins display a high degree of prey selectivity, however stable isotopes alone were not able to infer the diet of pangolins as a number of non-prey species had similar isotopic values to prey species. Direct observations suggest that purported non-prey species are not consumed, possibly because they have chemical or mechanical defenses or gallery structures that make them unsuitable as prey. Liver was enriched by 3.8 1.2& (mean SD) and 2.5 1.4& for d15N and d13C respectively, relative to the mean d15N and d13C values of the prey species, and scales were enriched by 2.9 1.0& and 5.3 1.8& respectively. We observed no seasonal variation or age or sex-related differences in diet, either from direct observations or isotope data. These results support previous findings that pangolins have further specialized within an already unusual mammalian dietary niche.
Keywords: Smutsia temminckii; Kalahari; forage ratio; stable isotopes; prey selectivity; foraging; dietary niche; pangolins.
Pangolins (Pholidota: Manidae) are frequently hunted as a source of bushmeat in Ghana. However, no information exists with regards to the level of trade of pangolins outside of major bushmeat market surveys in Ghana. The aim of this study was to determine the level of trade among other stakeholders in the bushmeat commodity chain for pangolins in Ghana. Data were collected from 153 stakeholders using semi-structured interviews and direct observation between September 2013 and January 2014. A total of 341 pangolins were recorded to have been traded in this study period. The white-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) represented 82 % and the black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla) 18 % of the observed pangolins traded by the stakeholders. Chopbar operators accounted for the highest retailer sales to consumers. The number of pangolins traded was negatively correlated to the distance between settlements and protected forest regions. The levels of pangolin trade were previously underestimated in Ghana as the pangolin bushmeat commodity chain does not form the supply chain to the major bushmeat markets where most surveys were undertaken. The Wildlife Conservation Act of 1971 (LI 685) that prohibits the hunting of pangolins can be regarded as ineffective and not serving as a deterrent to poaching.
Keywords: Pangolin; Bushmeat trade; Commodity chain; Ghana; Conservation
Non-invasive sampling aims to obtain suitable samples without causing harm to the study organism, thus making it a more preferred sampling technique. Molecular methods have advanced in such a way that quality DNA can be obtained from less invasive mammal samples. Various PCR enhancing techniques have also been developed to aid in amplification of low quality DNA samples, to produce reliable results that can be used to monitor populations and species or for forensic applications. Temminck’s ground pangolin is one of the few mammals to be covered in scales. In this study, we attempt to identify the most appropriate DNA isolation and PCR methods as well as determine whether PCR additives could be used to improve isolation of DNA and downstream amplification of mitochondrial DNA, from scale samples collected from these pangolins. In this study, it was determined that several different methods are required in order to successfully amplify DNA, and a decision tree rather than a single method should be followed.
Keywords: DNA isolation; Non-invasive sampling; PCR optimization; Scale samples; Temminck’s ground pangolin
The escalating growth in illegal wildlife trade and anthropogenic habitat changes threaten the survival of pangolin species worldwide. All eight extant species have experienced drastic population size reductions globally with a high extinction risk in Asia. Consequently, forensic services have become critical for law enforcement, with a need for standardised and validated genetic methods for reliable identifications. The seizure of three tonnes of pangolin scales, believed to have originated from Africa, by Hong Kong Customs Authorities provided an opportunity for the application of DNA barcoding in identifying scales. Three mitochondrial DNA gene regions (COI, Cyt b, and D-loop) were amplified for a subsample of the confiscated material and compared with taxonomically verified references. All four African species were recovered as monophyletic with high interspecific uncorrected p-distance estimates (0.048–0.188) among genes. However, only three of four African species (Phataginus tricuspis, Phataginus tetradactyla, and Smutsia gigantea, originating from West and Central Africa) and one of four Asian species (Manis javanica from Southeast Asia) were identified among scales. Although the assignment of unknown scales to specific species was reliable, additional genetic tools and representative reference material are required to determine geographic origins of confiscated pangolin specimens.
Key words: illegal wildlife trade, DNA barcoding, forensic genetics, pangolins, pangolin scale confiscation, Smutsia, Manis.
Background: This study used next generation sequencing to generate the mitogenomes of four African pangolin species; Temminck’s ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), giant ground pangolin (S. gigantea), white-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) and black-bellied pangolin (P. tetradactyla).
Results: The results indicate that the mitogenomes of the African pangolins are 16,558 bp for S. temminckii, 16,540 bp for S. gigantea, 16,649 bp for P. tetradactyla and 16,565 bp for P. tricuspis. Phylogenetic comparisons of the African pangolins indicated two lineages with high posterior probabilities providing evidence to support the classification of two genera; Smutsia and Phataginus. The total GC content between African pangolins was observed to be similar between species (36.5% – 37.3%). The most frequent codon was found to be A or C at the 3rd codon position. Significant variations in GC-content and codon usage were observed for several regions between African and Asian pangolin species which may be attributed to mutation pressure and/or natural selection. Lastly, a total of two insertions of 80 bp and 28 bp in size respectively was observed in the control region of the black-bellied pangolin which were absent in the other African
Conclusions: The current study presents reference mitogenomes of all four African pangolin species and thus expands on the current set of reference genomes available for six of the eight extant pangolin species globally and represents the first phylogenetic analysis with six pangolin species using full mitochondrial genomes. Knowledge of full mitochondrial DNA genomes will assist in providing a better understanding on the evolution of pangolins which will be essential for conservation genetic studies.
Keywords: Mitochondrial DNA, Phylogenetics, Pholidota, African pangolins
Pangolins are elusive and threatened mammals, considered the most widely traded mammals on Earth supplying local African and Asian traditional medicine markets. African pangolins are sourced as bushmeat and perceived to cure diverse ailments when body parts are used in traditional medicine practices. Currently, there is no documentation on cultural uses of Temminck’s ground pangolin throughout this mammal’s distribution range in South Africa. We interviewed 344 community members from seven indigenous tribal communities in four provinces overlapping with the distribution of Smutsia temminckii in South Africa; only 191 respondents (55.5%) had any knowledge of the species, its cultural and/or medicinal uses. Pangolin is highly sought after and held in high regard where this mammal’s body parts, particularly scales, blood and fat, are utilized traditionally for treating various physical ailments and spiritual remedies in rural South African communities. This utilization undoubtedly has a significant impact on the population of this threatened species.
Keywords: Temminck’s ground pangolin; traditional medicine; customary beliefs; cultural uses