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Pangolin Exploitation and Wild Meat Hunting in Nigeria



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Emogor, Charles A 


Pangolins, eight species of scaly African and Asian mammals, are all threatened by overexploitation according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The medicinal use of scales in traditional therapeutic medicines in Asia is considered the primary driver of population declines among Asian pangolins, with these dwindling numbers leading to increased trafficking of African species to supply Asian markets. This has in turn prompted research into the ecology and threats of African pangolins. However, there are fundamental knowledge gaps yet to be addressed, including a) quantifying the number of pangolins involved in the trade, b) understanding stakeholder preferences for interventions to reduce their decline, and c) determining the drivers of their exploitation.

My thesis, containing six data chapters, addresses these gaps primarily by studying wild meat hunting and use, as pangolins frequently appear in hunting records. I focus on Nigeria, a hub in international pangolin trafficking. Most of my work uses data I collected during three years of fieldwork in the Cross River Forest landscape, one of the few remaining pangolin hotspots in West Africa. In Chapter 2, my first data chapter, I explore Nigeria’s role in global pangolin trafficking, analysing the dynamics of the trade and quantifying the number of pangolins involved in seizure events. I show that Nigeria-linked seizures (2010-Sept 2021) involved ~ 190,400 kg of pangolin specimens, mainly scales, from approximately 800,000 pangolins. Chapter 3 uses interviews across 15 locations with hunters, wild meat vendors, and staff of conservation organisations and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to examine local perceptions of pangolins and stakeholder preferences for pangolin interventions in southeast Nigeria. Here I show that there is considerable local demand and consumption of pangolin meat. I also show that hunters and vendors favour community-focused interventions (such as community stewardship programs) to reduce exploitation, while NCS and conservation organisation staff prefer enforcement-centred interventions (anti-poaching patrols, for example).

Chapter 4 draws on a three-year hunting dataset (1,008 hunter-months, including 54 records of pangolins) from two communities to determine the success of hunting trips. My results reveal that hunters are more likely to catch at least one animal during drier periods and on shorter hunting trips, although when assessing the successful trips, the number of animals caught increases with trip durations, indicating that hunters set a target of not returning empty-handed rather than optimising their efforts. In Chapter 5, I assess differences, across meat types, in their average palatability, as perceived by 190 hunters, 190 vendors, and adult members of 190 households in 15 communities. My results show comparability in the median palatability of domestic meat, fish, invertebrates, and wild meat. Furthermore, among mammals, ungulates, carnivores, primates, and rodents showed similar palatability. However, pangolins had higher palatability than all other orders, except rodents. Chapter 6 then looks at changes in hunting and use of wild meat during the COVID-19 lockdown (using data from Chapter 4). Here I show that the monthly rate of successful hunting trips and the number, mass, and value of animals caught increased during Nigeria’s lockdown compared to matched non-lockdown periods. Moreover, hunters consumed a larger proportion of wild meat and sold less during the lockdown, suggesting a reliance on wild meat to augment the reduced food and income posed by the lockdown.

In my concluding chapter, I use interviews with 809 hunters and vendors in 25 locations to assess drivers and temporal trends in pangolin exploitation and characterise how far exploitation of scales is the primary motivation for pangolin hunting around Cross River. Perhaps surprisingly, but in line with my palatability results, results from Chapter 7 show that demand for meat, not exploitation for scales, is likely to be the primary driver of pangolin harvesting in southeast Nigeria. I also show that pangolins are not targeted in this landscape but harvested during general wild meat hunting trips.

In conclusion, my thesis shows that pangolin harvesting in Southeast Nigeria is perhaps integral to wild meat hunting for food and income and that pangolins here are not targeted for scales but for meat, probably because of the meat’s exceptionally high palatability. Studies in Central and Western Africa also show the high palatability of pangolin meat, and with wild meat hunting being pervasive in these regions, it is likely that pangolins are also targeted for their meat in other African forest landscapes. Therefore, the survival of African pangolins may hinge on prioritising community-based interventions, particularly through behaviour change interventions and efforts to improve the food security of rural communities.





Balmford, Andrew


Biological resource use, Bush meat, Pangolins, Wild meat


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates Cambridge Trust)