Remembering Willy Thomas on World Pangolin Day
Willy Ayodele Thomas who passed away into eternity on 30 July 2020 was one of the greats of the Pangolin crusade in Nigeria, Africa and indeed in the world. He loved Pangolins without reservations and was in the forefront of efforts to conserve these rare, precious and invaluable members of our animal community. Before his untimely departure at his home in Abeokuta, Ogun State, he had made his towering presence felt in efforts to save Pangolins in Nigeria. We shared an abiding passion for conservation and equitable use of natural resources.
As the world marks World Pangolin Day every third Saturday of February, it is only appropriate to reassess efforts and individuals who have contributed immensely to stopping illegal trade in Pangolin scales around the world. While individuals and organization are too numerous to mention here within the limits imposed by this article, they are all appreciated for the relentless efforts aimed at putting an end to the mindless hunting of endangered animals mostly in Africa where animal skin, scales, and meat are fast becoming fashionable items and memorabilia. Willy Thomas was determined to stop this illegal trade by means within his limited reach. He had invaluable strategies and contacts nonetheless, reaching out to Martin Ssemakula in Uganda, Alexis Kriel in South Africa, Paul Thomson at the Pangolin Crisis Fund and many more around the world.
Willy Thomas founded Cowrie 97.5 FM, a community radio station within the presidential Boulevard of Ogun State where he devoted considerable attention to the plight of Pangolins and other conservation efforts. It was a rare honor for me when I had the opportunity to host Farm Radio at the station. We made efforts to sensitize the community on the need to farm animals in meaningful ways and ensure the preservation of the ecosystem for generations unborn. The forests, water bodies and earth hold immense promise for scientific research and for humanity. It would be completely senseless to engage in mindless exploitation of God’s gift to mankind. Many didn’t know much about Pangolins and hunted them blindly. But Willy began telling listeners about Pangolins and their importance to the ecosystem.
Willy Thomas had worked at one of the world’s best broadcasting houses, DW Radio in Germany. He had the linguistic abilities to push the cause of Pangolins. To this end, he founded the Friends of Akika social media chat group through which we kept Pangolins on the front burner. His love for Pangolins was roundly demonstrated to those who had the rare opportunity to sit with him. He reached out to notable business elites and political heavyweights using Afrinet, a parent body for his radio house. Willy was a force in the 2020 World Pangolin day celebrations in Nigeria. He took active roles in all celebrations, driving long distances from Ogun to Lagos state; to amplify the cause of Pangolins. Perhaps, he overworked himself in the process because he didn’t live long afterwards to witness the impact of his humanitarian efforts. We remember him with pride, nonetheless.
Professor Ray Jansen in South Africa has named a Pangolin after Willy Thomas and Paul Thomson at the Pangolin Crisis Fund is favorably disposed towards immortalizing the work of Willy Thomas. As we continue to champion the safety of Pangolins in Africa and around the world, one is hopeful that the efforts of Willy Thomas and his likes will go a long way in stopping the illegal trade in Pangolin meat and scales. The biggest offenders are those who hunt these gentle animals and those who buy them around the world, most especially in Asia and elsewhere where it has been said that the meat is highly prized. Man can survive without butchering Pangolins and depleting their population. That was the thesis in Willy Thomas’ advocacy. The world remembers him and his ideas. And we owe him and his dear animals a duty to halt the illegal trade in Pangolins and their products. Sleep where the good ones do, Willy Thomas, friend, mentor, passionate Pangolin advocate, and one of humanity’s finest.