Pangolins: No Respite from Poaching
February 16 is World Pangolin Day. Pangolins are still the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world. Hundreds of thousands of pangolins have been poached and all eight species are threatened with extinction in the wild.
Pangolins are shy and secretive nocturnal creatures that live on ants and termites. Their defense mechanism is quickly to curl into a ball when threatened, which is where their name originates, “penggulung”, meaning “roller” in Malay.
What sets pangolins aside from other mammals, and also the reason behind them being a top target for poachers and traffickers, is that their bodies are covered in hard scales of keratin, the same substance that makes up human fingernails.
Within some Asian and African cultures, pangolin scales are perceived to have medicinal value, and they are consumed as a remedy for a variety of conditions including asthma and trouble breast feeding. Pangolin meat is also considered a delicacy within certain circles, with its consumption seen as a display of wealth or social status.
To satisfy high demand from Asian markets, an estimated 20 tons of pangolins and their parts, equivalent to tens of thousands of individual animals, are illegally traded each year. A recent TRAFFIC report revealed 27 new smuggling routes are used by pangolin traffickers annually and at least 120 tons of whole pangolins, parts and scales were confiscated by law enforcement in just five years.
The true volume of pangolin trafficking is likely to be far higher, and there have already been some significant pangolin seizures in 2019. In January, over eight tons of pangolin scales were seized in Hong Kong en route to Vietnam from Nigeria, with another ton seized in two separate incidents in Vietnam and Uganda. Just last week Malaysian authorities, acting on an anonymous tip-off, uncovered a major illegal pangolin processing facility stocked with thousands of containers packed with frozen pangolin bodies. Over 30 tons of pangolin products were confiscated.
TRAFFIC’s trade monitoring reveals the ongoing issue of African pangolins being sourced for trafficking to Asia. The scarcity of Asian pangolins, alongside the large numbers of Asian nationals living in Africa, combined with transport links between the two continents and a lucrative destination consumer market, has coalesced into a poaching crisis.
TRAFFIC is working to tackle the crisis throughout the pangolin trade chain, supporting enforcement agencies in Africa and Asia to help them detect and prosecute traffickers, as well as working in destination markets, developing behavioral change initiatives to reduce consumer demand. “Collaboration between countries, NGOs and enforcement networks is essential if we are to see a brighter future for threatened pangolins in time for World Pangolin Day 2020.”