The video and information was supplied to Africa Geographic by an anonymous contributor, who expressed concern that famous Instagram personalities are glamorising eating pangolin – the world’s most trafficked animal.
Instagram influencers with a combined 238,000 followers videoed themselves eating pangolin meat in a restaurant in Gabon and promoting the experience to their followers. The video is no longer available on Instagram, but our contributor sent us a copy of the video – see below.
Jessica Nabongo is on a mission thecatchmeifyoucan to “be 1st black woman to travel to all countries” – despite that accolade having already been achieved, by Woni Spotts. Her website lists numerous sponsors and requests donations to fund her lifestyle.
Sal Lavallo claims to have visited every country in the world.
Our contributor contacted Ms. Nabongo on Instagram and questioned her eating protected wildlife and making it ‘cool or mainstream’ for her followers, but Ms. Nabongo did not respond. Our contributor then sent the same query to Mr. Lavallo, who responded that they thought they were eating anteater and did not know about the plight of pangolins.
During the video, Ms. Nabongo says “People have told me that Gabon has some of the best bush meat, this we believe … is an armadillo.” At this point, Ms. Nagongo pans across to someone at the lunch table showing a pictures of various species of pangolin on their mobile phone. Towards the end of the video, in response to being asked by Ms. Nabongo if it tastes like chicken, Mr Lavallo comments on how thick the skin of the pangolin is, and Ms. Nabongo retorts: “You’re basically eating a dinosaur”, at which point she and Mr Lavallo laugh.
All requests made to Ms. Nabongo by Africa Geographic CEO Simon Espley to provide an explanation for her behaviour were ignored. She did though exclaim on Instagram how ‘unfair’ everyone was for criticising her for eating pangolin when she did not at the time know about the plight of pangolins or that the bushmeat industry is a major cause of wildlife extirpation across Africa.
Editorial comment: Four days after this post went live, and after a deluge of criticism from many concerned individuals and conservation organisation, Ms Nabongo did apologise for her actions in an Instagram post and on her website. Unfortunately her apology was clouded by her denial that the species she and Mr Lavallo dined on is in danger (to quote her: “The Giant Pangolin is not endangered, but rather vulnerable,”). In fact, the giant ground pangolin is classified as ‘Endangered” by IUCN. Her apology was dominated by her apparenet confusion about the volume and tone of criticism aimed at her (to quote her: “online attacks that I found baffling” and “appalled to read so many abusive messages“).
Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked animal, and face enormous pressure from poaching to supply the bush meat industry and insatiable demand for their scales from Far East countries, especially China, where the scales are used for their supposed medicinal properties. Read more about Africa’s pangolins, including the four species, here: Fascinating Pangolin Facts.