The case against six traffickers arrested with over 700kg of pangolin scales shall be heard at the Bonanjo Court of First Instance on September 28. This is the second hearing of case that opened last month following the arrestof the traffickers by wildlife officials from the Wouri Divisional Delegation of Forestry and Wildlife working in collaboration with officers from the Judicial Police. Three of the six traffickers failed to appear in court during the first hearing.
Shortly before their arrest, one of the traffickers flew in from Bangui where he had collected close to 600kg of giant pangolin scales and sent the illegal cargo by road to Douala. Helater met five others in Doualaand they attempted to sell the pangolin scales. They were arrested in the act, at the Bonaprisoneighbourhood in Douala.
Three of the traffickers were later released on bail and they failed to turn up in court the next day, when the matter was first scheduled for hearing, prompting fears that they have escaped. Two of the three that failed to appear in court are from the Central African Republic where a network of pangolin scales trafficking,bought pangolin scales from smaller traffickers in the country and from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) while exporting to Nigeria via Cameroon. Their illegal activity in the DRC, according to sources close to the matter that requested to speak anonymously, was protected by some members of the ruling elite.
The scales were generally assembled in Nigeria for export. Majority of the scales that were confiscated in Douala were from the giant pangolin which is an animal that is threatened with extinction, The operation that led to the confiscation, was technically assisted by LAGA, a wildlife law enforcement support body that assists government in the application of the wildlife law. Prior investigations showed the traffickers were linked to rhino horn and lion trophies trafficking.
The illegal trade in pangolin scales is prompting a strong response from wildlife officials who are presently stepping up efforts in combatting the trade. Officers from the AkwaGendarmerie Brigade, on September 7, intercepted over 400kg of pangolin scales that was heading to Nigeria. Four people were arrested and the case file was handed over to wildlife officials who, with the technical assistance of LAGA, continued the prosecution proceedings. All four were charged with unlawful possession and circulation of parts of protected species. As in the first case, they were equally released on bail and the never turned up in court during the first hearing, prompting fresh fears that they too had escaped while raising questions as to why traffickers are released without strong enough checks to ensure they appear in court.
In January 2017, two Chinese nationals were arrested with over 5 tons of pangolin scales ready for illegal export and they were sentenced to a jail term of3 months. Many considered this as an extremely weak punishment for people who had been responsible for the killing of thousands of pangolins, destroying the country’s endangered wildlife in the process.These rulings and other decisions at the level of the judiciary is becoming a matter of concern for conservationists because the traffickers are set free to go about their illegal business. On September 28, when the case against the traffickers hold, suspicions raised that the traffickers may have escaped, shall be dispersed or confirmed, depending on whether, indeed, they appear in court.