Just a few months after Epe Fish Market was under lockdown to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, vendors at the site in the southern Nigerian state of Lagos are back buying, selling and trading animals.
At the wet market, vendors descale endangered pangolins with a machete. Nearby, other vendors are skinning grasscutter rodents.
Pangolins are fully covered in scales to protect themselves from predators in the wild. When they feel threatened, they curl up. They are non-aggressive animals but have been hunted by people who believe their skin has health benefits, but that has never been scientifically proven.
The pangolin, the world’s most heavily trafficked mammal, is thought by some scientists to be the possible host of the novel coronavirus that emerged at a market in China’s Wuhan city last year. But few in Epe were worried.
“I use to sell everything to the Chinese and the black people, and the coronavirus that just came now, we are not afraid of it because the coronavirus is not inside the meat,” said vendor Kunle Yusaf, who says he has been selling wildlife for over ten years.
Rescuing a pangolin
Chinedu Mogbo, the founder of Green Fingers Wildlife Conservation Initiative, a wildlife sanctuary, is at the Epe market to see what wildlife he can take off the sellers. After about an hour of bargaining, he is able to pay and secure the safety of just one of the pangolins.
Chinedu says paying to save these animals is not the best option, but it remains all he can do until there is proper education. He buys these animals and gives them a new lease to life by either bringing them to his animal sanctuary or keeping them for a while to heal before releasing them back into the wild.
He says that apart from going to these wet markets to buy off the animals, he gets called as much as 15 times a day from people who are about to witness the killing of a wild animal either for food or for traditional medicine purposes.
One time, he paid as much as 600 USD for a vulture.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said the pandemic “should be a wake-up call.” But the booming trade at Epe illustrated unchanged attitudes despite the nearly 800,000 killed worldwide by the virus. According to the WWF, Nigeria is also a hub for illegal wildlife trade to Asia.
The WWF said the economic strain of the pandemic has sapped conservation budgets in many countries.