KOTA KINABALU--The Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) may be heading towards extinction in Sabah due to a combination of factors, including illegal trade with organised syndicates that may have international links.
Pangolins are captured for their meat and other uses but not much is discussed publically about the fate of the species, unlike that of the Bornean elephant or orangutan.
Studies on pangolin ecology conducted by Sandakan-born Elisa Panjang revealed that apart from poaching, habitat degradation also had a negative impact on pangolins when their food sources of ants and termites were destroyed.
Vital nesting sites in mature forests are also destroyed.
The Masters student at Universiti Malaysia Sabah developed a passion for pangolins during her undergraduate years and did research to better understand threats facing this nocturnal animal.
"Pangolins are quite easy to capture because they roll up into a ball when threatened. A study by Traffic, which fights illegal wildlife crime, shows that hunters in Sabah come from a variety of social backgrounds and usually hunt the animal to supplement their income," she said in a statement released by Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), a non governmental organisation here Wednesday.
"There is also local consumption. We need more data on pangolin populations and their distribution and how the species is being affected by poaching and trade," she said, adding that data from Traffic showed at least 22,000 pangolins were captured in Sabah over a period of about 14 months in 2014.
Elisa who will further her studies and carry out a doctorate on pangolins with Danau Girang Field Centre and Cardiff University, said there was a pressing need to better understand the plight of the species.
There was also a need to raise awareness among those who consumed the species as an exotic delicacy apart from educating poachers and potential hunters.
A workshop to discuss steps in creating awareness about pangolins locally will be held on August 21 at the Sabah Wildlife Department.
Due to rampant poaching, last month the International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN) upgraded the Sunda pangolin to critically endangered, the worst listing on the Red List before a species is declared extinct.
In Sabah, the Sunda pangolin is currently listed as a protected animal, in Part One of Schedule Two of the State's Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.