Threats to Pangolins

Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world

Despite pangolins remaining relatively unknown, the illegal trade in pangolins has reached epidemic proportions. With over one million pangolins believed to have been traded illegally in the last decade (source: IUCN), pangolins are now the most heavily trafficked wild mammal in the world.

Pangolins are in high demand for their meat, which is considered a local delicacy, for their scales, for medicinal purposes in China, and their leather, for wearable goods in the USA.

In 2016, all eight species of pangolin were re-classified to Appendix I under the Convention in the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to give them the highest level of protection, however illegal trade is still ongoing; in 2017, China made the biggest recorded seizure of pangolin scales at 11.9 tonnes, which is the equivalent of around 20,000 pangolins. Learn more about the different types of pangolins here.

Why are pangolins endangered?

The illegal wildlife trade of pangolins

The illegal hunting of pangolins is driven by an illegal international trade in the animals for their meat and scales, commonly destined for 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.

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.

Why is there a demand for pangolins in Asia?

Asian pangolin markets are driven by a voracious demand for their meat, alongside the use of their scales in traditional medicines.

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

Pangolin 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.

The scales are also used in medicines believed to cure a range of medical problems – from helping lactating mothers to secrete milk, to curing skin diseases and improving blood circulation. A pangolin can fetch huge sums on the black market.

The use of pangolin products is deeply embedded in Asian traditional medicine and culture – it was only in May 2015 that the “Vietnam Government stopped pangolin scales being available under health insurance schemes.”

Pangolins are consumed as bushmeat

In Africa, pangolins are sought for bushmeat or for their scales to be used in a wide variety of ethno-medicinal and spiritual uses, as well as a developing inter-continental trade in African pangolin parts, mainly scales, to Asian markets.

Pangolin leather in the USA

It’s not well known that the US market also exists, with unprecedented demand for pangolin leather goods.

Although escalating 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.

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