Pangolin Trade Moves to Africa

Malayan pangolin, Credit Bjorn Olesen

By MarEx 2016-10-30 18:20:18

A study that scrutinized 38-years’ worth of pangolin trade data reported to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has confirmed a dramatic switch from Asian to African pangolin species over time. 

Researchers from TRAFFIC and the University of Adelaide, Australia, observed an increase in the trade of African pangolins after 2000. Pangolins are commercially poached because their scales can be used in traditional medicine, as fashion accessories and eaten as a high-end cuisine.

In their analysis, the authors identified the U.S. as the dominant importer of pangolins and their products, measured both in volume as well as frequency, throughout the entire period. 

From 1995, all pangolin species were listed in Appendix II of CITES, which meant legal trade was permitted with appropriate permits. Asian pangolins dominated the trade until 2000 when CITES Parties effectively banned commercial international trade in wild-caught Asian pangolins by setting a zero export quota. 

Since 2001, two-thirds of cases involving the trade in whole dead and live pangolins were of African species, according to the new study. 

African pangolin

Over the past few months, 11,000 pangolins have been trafficked, according to data collected by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In June, authorities in Hong Kong confiscated 4.4 tons of pangolin scales hidden in cargo from Cameroon labelled "sliced plastics." The haul was estimated to have involved between 1,100 and 6,600 African pangolins, and was valued at $1.25 million on the black market.

In July, Hong Kong officials seized more than 10 tons of pangolin scales in shipping containers arriving from Nigeria and Ghana.

Statistics confirmed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that 30,000 products made from pangolins have been seized coming into the U.S. in the past decade.

Recent concerns over the large number of pangolins seized in illegal trade, both within Asia and between Africa and Asia, and apparent large population declines of most species in the wild, led to government Parties to CITES voting earlier this month to end international commercial trade in all pangolins through listing the eight species in Appendix I of the Convention, a ruling that will come into force early in 2017.

In combatting illegal wildlife trade, States are increasingly being confronted by transnational organized criminals, and in some cases rebel militia and rogue elements of the military, which have been driving poaching and illegal trade destined for illicit markets. The same illegal infrastructure is used for the illegal trafficking in drugs, weapons and humans.

Increasing collective efforts are underway to combat wildlife crime, yet it continues to be a major problem worldwide, estimated by some to be worth up to $20 billion a year. This ranks it amongst some of the most serious transnational crimes, including people and arms trafficking.