The Pandemic, Pangolins and Politicians

While the world struggles with the coronabug pandemic, some things just carry on regardless. On 1st April, authorities in Malaysia seized more than a ton of pangolin scales in Port Klang. This is the biggest shipment of pangolin scales ever found in this particular port and you can bet your life that the scales were destined for China.

Pangolins are not large animals and there are a variety of different species, but even the larger varieties carry around nine hundred scales apiece. These are made from keratin, so weigh very little. How many pangolins will have died to produce six tons of the ruddy things I wonder?

These lovable little creatures are the most trafficked animals in the world with well over a million animals taken from the wild and traded over the past twenty years. I don’t see the trade ending until there are no more pangolins left in the world.

This particular shipment was found hidden beneath sacks of cashew nuts. It was labelled as being only cashews which raised a red flag to the authorities.

“Cashew nuts is a common false declaration for shipments carrying African ivory and pangolin scales,” Elizabeth John, a senior communications officer for the wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC told reporters.

“The exact origin of the pangolin scales is unknown, although they certainly came from Africa, based on the fact that the scales are from a mix of African pangolins,” John said.

 A new report by the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) suggests that over half of seized shipments of this sort originate in Nigeria. Yet pangolins are nearing extinction in that country, so it’s more likely that the pangolins come from neighbouring areas, with Nigeria possibly still acting as a trading hub. Traders are also known to frequently change their routes, which makes tracing a shipments origins extremely difficult.

So the traffickers are stupid when it comes to labelling their shipments, but that is little consolation for the pangolins I’m afraid. The evil trade goes on despite setbacks like this. Only last year, wildlife officials in Malaysia raided a warehouse in Sabah to find thousands of pangolins, both dead and alive, as well as nearly a ton of scales, bear paws and flying fox carcasses.

Pangolins are mainly valued for their scales, used in traditional Chinese medicine, even though they’re made from the same substance, keratin, as human fingernails and hair. In some countries, pangolins are also traded for their meat, and their scales are used for decorations in rituals and jewelry.

I ranted a few weeks ago that the pangolin has been identified as a possible source or intermediary host of the bug behind the COVID-19 pandemic, although this has not been confirmed. Yet the pandemic doesn’t appear to be slowing down the global trade in pangolins, or other wild animals.

I have seen a plethora of conspiracy theories about the pandemic on social media and in the papers over the past few weeks and although I scoffed at first, I really am beginning to wonder. As politicians around the world chase their tails and officials become ever more officious toward ordinary people, the evil giant that is China is quietly getting richer and our precious heritage of wild life is increasingly under threat of extinction.

I am often pretty scathing about African politicians but in South Africa, President Ramaphosa and his merry men have set an example – and hopefully a precedent – to every other politician in the world.

On Thursday, Ramaphosa announced that he, his Deputy President David Mabuza, cabinet ministers and deputy ministers will take a 33% pay cut for three months. The funds will be donated to the Covid-19 Solidarity Fund, the president announced on Thursday night. 

In an address to the country on Thursday night, the president implored other public office bearers and private sector executives to follow suit and boost the government’s efforts to combat the Covid-19 virus. 

Ramaphosa urged private companies to also consider taking pay cuts, with executives donating their salaries to the Solidarity Fund. 

“An essential part of our response to this emergency is the principle of solidarity. From across society, companies and individuals have come forward to provide financial and other assistance.

Yet in Britain, although we are repeatedly told that ‘we are all in this together’ and millions of people in the private sector endure pay cuts and face an ­uncertain future, MPs are actually being paid more money to help them cope with the coronabug crisis.

Quite apart from the 3.1 per cent increase they received at the beginning of April, our elected representatives have also been handed an additional ten thousand smackers for the inconvenience of having to work from home. Ostensibly, it is designed to support key staff, but there’s nothing in the rules to prevent MPs spending it on themselves.

The real question is why they need any more money. In March, every MP got an extra twenty five thousand pounds to cover increased staff costs, taking the total amount for running their offices to over two hundred thousand a year.

Admittedly, working from home may mean they incur higher domestic ­telephone and utility bills, but they’re also saving money while their constituency offices are shut. So why give them another ten grand? What extra equipment do they need to work from home? Surely no one is seriously suggesting that MPs and their staff don’t already own ­computers and printers? Emails cost ­nothing, and neither do most of those fancy new video-conferencing apps.

Millions of people are managing to work from home, using laptops and mobile phones, without ­receiving an extra penny.

So why does Ipsa — the parliamentary body that is supposed to watch the pennies on behalf of the British taxpayer — believe that MPs are a special case and not subject to the same privations and sacrifices as the rest of us?

It’s not as if they’re working their socks off right now. Parliament isn’t sitting and constituency surgeries are off-limits. How are they passing their time in ­lockdown? And how are they going to spend their ten grand windfalls?

During the expenses scandal a few years ago, we marvelled at the audacity of their greed. Since then, the rules governing what they can claim have ­tightened, but never bet against their ingenuity when it comes to defining ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ activity.

These people are experts at twisting the system to their own advantage.

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