By Charles A. Emogor, Aiora Zabala, Patience Adaje, Kristian Nielsen, Douglas Clark, and Rachel Carmenta.
Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked wild mammals, with the demand for their scales driving the Africa-Asia illegal trade, which is estimated to involve millions of pangolins in the last decade. Nigeria plays a pivotal role in this global illegal trade, underpinning the need to protect pangolins within and outside the country.
We assessed peoples’ perceptions of pangolins and their preferences for interventions to reduce pangolin decline. We classified respondents based on their occupation to ensure diverse stakeholders representing both sides of the conservation debate: contributors to pangolin conservation (park rangers, employees of the Nigeria Customs Service [NCS] and conservation organisations) and those who directly or indirectly threaten pangolins (subsistence hunters, wild meat traders), with civil servants representing a neutral group.
We found that the local consumption of pangolin meat as food is the primary driver of poaching in the region, contradicting popular opinions that pangolins are specifically targeted for international trade. We also found that respondents from groups living around pangolin habitats believe that pangolins are not linked to the origin of COVID-19, with these groups reporting their intentions to continue consuming pangolin meat. The different stakeholder groups identified awareness-raising campaigns, law enforcement, community stewardship programs, and ecotourism as preferred interventions for pangolins. We, nonetheless, observed a divergence of preferences between people associated with pangolin use and exploitation (predominantly those living around pangolin habitats, including hunters and wild meat traders) and those working to protect them (such as conservation organisations and NCS employees). For example, the first group showed more support for community stewardship programs, while the latter strongly preferred awareness-raising and law enforcement efforts.
Our results underpin the need for a combination of targeted interventions at the site level to engage different stakeholders while highlighting the potential challenges to collaborative decision-making for species threatened by illegal wildlife trade. Our results also stress the importance of context-specific conservation interventions. For example, the new knowledge that the local consumption of their meat primarily drives pangolin poaching in the region reveals a unique and cost-effective opportunity for site-level behaviour change interventions.