Pangolin trade

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s (DSWF) position on the international and domestic trade of pangolins.

Pangolins have been classified as the world’s most trafficked mammal, with over a million thought to have been poached from the wild in the last decade. 

Captured to fuel increasing demand from China and Vietnam, the illicit trade in pangolin meat, scales and body parts is driving this 80-million-year-old species to the brink of extinction.

In Asia, pangolin meat is considered a delicacy, whilst their scales are used in traditional medicines, fetching huge sums on the black market.

With four Asian species almost poached to extinction across the continent, trafficking networks have shifted their attention from Asia to Africa in an attempt to satisfy growing consumer demand.

With populations rapidly decreasing, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) has reclassified all eight species of pangolins from Appendix II to Appendix I, giving them the highest level of protection possible.

Although climbing demand has been highlighted in Asia, more than 165,000 pangolin skins were legally exported from Asia to the US between 1980 and 1985, with customs officials seizing 30,000 illegally imported pangolins between 2005 and 2014 alone.

Used in the manufacture of boots, belts and wallets, the US market accentuates the sheer size of the illicit trade in pangolins, which contributes to the staggering $19 billion illegal wildlife trade industry.

DSWF actively campaigns for and supports:

  • Stopping the illegal trade of pangolins
  • Strengthening existing laws for pangolin protection
  • Eliminating poaching
  • Stopping local subsistence poaching

What is a pangolin?

Pangolins are solitary and nocturnal animals that are easily identifiable by their armour of scales. Sometimes inaccurately called ‘scaly anteaters’ due to their diet, pangolins have eight species, four of which are in Asia and four in Africa. When protecting themselves from predators, pangolins roll into a ball, making them an easy target for poachers.

What are the main threats to pangolins?

Although environmentalists know little about pangolins due to their solitary and nocturnal culture, it is unanimously agreed that the threats they face are growing. Alongside the poaching epidemic, agricultural growth is leading to habitat reduction and, due to their solitary and anxious nature, impacting on their mating habits too.

Subsistence poaching for bushmeat and traditional local medicines also pose large problems for pangolin populations. Local communities, who are often unaware of the threats pangolins face, eat their meat for survival, alongside using body parts in medication.

Furthermore, although pangolins have been reclassified from Appendix II to I by CITES, giving them the ‘greatest level of protection’, inadequate legal protection and the weak enforcement of existing laws creates difficulties in sustaining pangolin populations worldwide.

Why is there a demand for pangolins?

Asian pangolin markets are driven by voracious demand for their meat, alongside the use of their scales in traditional medicines. It is not well known that the US market also exists with unprecedented demand for pangolin leather goods.

In Asia, pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and consumption demonstrates status amongst the countries’ elite and growing middle classes.

Pangolins’ tongues have also been incorporated into special soups, whilst its blood is drained for drinking and used in tonic wines.

Pangolin scales have long been thought to have medicinal qualities, including nourishing the kidneys, treating psoriasis and working as an aphrodisiac, all of which are scientifically unproven.

It was only in May 2015 that the “Vietnam Government stopped pangolin scales being available under health insurance schemes”, emphasising the depth of their roots in Asian culture.

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