Home Species We Protect Pangolins Trade in Pangolins
Wesley Harmann
Pangolin walking infront of sunset

Trade in Pangolins

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. This is likely to be a very conservative estimate.  

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 to satisfy growing consumer demand.

With populations rapidly decreasing, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) reclassified all eight species of pangolins in 2016, from Appendix II to Appendix I – giving them the highest level of protection possible. However, this has not stemmed the growth of the trade. The total weight of pangolin scales seized between 2017-2021 was 328 tonnes, compared to 58 tonnes between 2012-2016. The scale of the increase is both shocking and of huge concern. While some of it can be attributed to greater investigative and enforcement efforts, it underlines the size of the challenge facing us.  

Although climbing demand has been highlighted in Asia, the US is another key market, with American 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.

Gareth Thomas
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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. They are sometimes inaccurately called ‘scaly anteaters’ due to their diet.  When protecting themselves from predators, pangolins roll into a ball, making them an easy target for poachers.

What are the main threats to pangolins?

Thilo Florian
Pangolin scales, endangered species

Although relatively little is known about pangolins due to their solitary and nocturnal nature, 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, is 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 faced by pangolins, 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 measures and weak enforcement creates difficulties in sustaining pangolin populations worldwide.

Why is there a demand for pangolins?

Artwork by Mandy Shepherd
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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 their 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.

Please donate to help us end this brutal trade.

You can support our work to save endangered animals from extinction by adopting today.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
James Kydd

A monthly donation of £{{ item.amount }}
{{ item.reason }}

A one-off donation of £{{ item.amount }}
{{ item.reason }}

All donations will help us continue our vital work conservation work to protect endangered species and turn the tide on extinction.

Donate in aid of pangolins today!

£50 could go towards funding investigations to disrupt criminal syndicates trafficking pangolins.

How often do you want to donate?
Choose a monthly amount
Choose a one off amount
We ask for a minimum donation of £{{ minimum_donation_amount }}
Drag Read