Skip to main content
A white-bellied pangolin, one of four African pangolin species
A white-bellied pangolin, one of four African pangolin species (Photo by Isaac Kasamani/via AFP)

In Gabon, the national parks’ wildlife capture unit recently succeeded in capturing a giant ground pangolin—the largest of Africa’s four pangolin species—in Lopé-Okanda National Park. A team of scientists, led by wildlife ecologist Dr. David Lehmann, are researching this elusive scaled mammal as part of the European Union’s Ecofac6 program, which supports the preservation of fragile ecosystems and biodiversity in Central Africa. They hope that studying the 38-kilogram captured pangolin will give them insight that could help in the fight against poaching.

In Africa, China, and Southeast Asia, pangolins are prized for their meat, blood, and scales for spiritual and medicinal purposes. Since the four Asian pangolin species have been hunted to the brink of extinction, smugglers are increasingly poaching African pangolins to meet the demands of the illicit trade. The African Wildlife Foundation estimates that 2.7 million pangolins are poached each year from African rainforests.

Professor Lee White, Gabon’s minister of forests, oceans, environment and climate change, says over the past three years the Gabonese authorities have caught ivory poachers operating near the Cameroonian border with sacks of pangolin scales, a sign that existing trafficking syndicates in the region have expanded their work to include pangolin poaching.

Dr. Lehmann and his team worry that should pangolin numbers continue to drop or, in the worst-case scenario, if the animal were to become extinct, it would have a cascading effect on rainforest biomes, since pangolins play a key role in managing insect populations. A single pangolin can consume up to 70 million ants and termites per year.

 

The COVID-19 Link

Some experts believe that the COVID-19 pandemic began when a virus jumped from a wild animal species to a human at a market in Wuhan, China. There has also been speculation that the pangolin could be an intermediate host of the novel coronavirus. This was probably why, in June, pangolin parts were left out of the Chinese Pharmacopoeia, the official compendium of traditional Chinese and Western medicines.

 

 

Undersea Cable

 

A multinational consortium of telecommunications companies—including Facebook, China Mobile International, MTN Global Connect, Telecom Egypt, and Vodafone—announced the construction of a new undersea fiber-optic cable that will connect sixteen African countries, Europe, and the Middle East. Named 2Africa, the 37,000 kilometer-long communications cable is scheduled to go live in 2023 or 2024.

 

Africans pay some of the highest data rates in the world.

 

In March, two undersea cables serving Africa experienced breakages that drastically reduced Internet connectivity for days as repairs were made. The addition of 2Africa will help improve Internet access for millions of Africans, and mitigate disruptions should other cables experience failures in the future. Such disruptions are not only frustrating for Africans, who pay some of the highest data rates in the world, but also have a negative impact on the African economy.

A 2017 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) concluded that intentional Internet shutdowns in twelve countries between 2015 and 2017 cost sub-Saharan Africa more than US$237 million. Unforeseen connectivity disruptions naturally can have far greater negative impact on national and regional economies.

 

As of March 19, Gabon has three confirmed cases of COVID-19. Already the country is taking proactive measures to limit the spread of the virus, including the suspension of all commercial flights. Noureddin Bongo Valentin, general coordinator of presidential affairs and son of President Ali Bongo Odimba, announced on March 18 that the La Santé pharmaceutical factory in Nkok, about twenty kilometers from Libreville, will adapt its production line to make alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel. The factory, which was built in 2019 with investment from India to reduce Gabon’s dependence on imported drugs and the black market, is expected to produce twenty thousand bottles of hand sanitizer every eight hours.

 

Why It Matters

The COVID-19 virus has had limited impact in Africa compared with the rest of the world, but government leaders and health authorities have been ramping up preventative protocols in the hopes of avoiding a rapid escalation of cases as has been seen in Italy, Spain, and Iran. Many African countries do not have the healthcare infrastructure to meet severe outbreaks, and so any effort to boost public health and prevent infections is crucial.

Daily Picks
Nov 23, 2020