World Pangolin Day: Reminding the world of a disappearing species

World Pangolin Day: Reminding the world of a disappearing species
Saturday, 17 February, 2018

February 17 marks World Pangolin Day. Small and scaly, pangolins are the world’s most illegally traded mammal and in danger of extinction. According to media reports, in 2017 nearly 50 metric tons of pangolin scales were seized worldwide, representing an estimated equivalent of more than 42.000 animals.

While these armored creatures once inhabited vast portions of Asia and Africa, their populations today are severely dwindling due to a massive and growing demand for their scales, which are believed to have curative properties in East Asian medicine, and their meat, which is highly regarded as a symbol of status in some cultures.

Despite international efforts to increase protection for pangolins, the latest data analyzed by IFAW showed a worldwide increase in both number and volume of pangolin seizures. The statistics also show that the number of pangolins coming from Africa is skyrocketing, indicating a clear shift in trade from Asia to Africa. As pangolins are increasingly harder to obtain in Asia, traffickers are sourcing more and more from African countries. This is illustrated by very recent seizures of over 600 kg of pangolin scales in Ivory Coast on 25 January, and over 2.000 kg in Nigeria on 15 February - only two days ago. Development and resource extraction activities in these countries, often backed by foreign investment, has also spurred access to previously inaccessible pangolin habitat.

These unique creatures are disappearing from our planet, but their silent death can still be stopped,” said Mark Hofberg, campaigns officer, IFAW. “Much more needs to be done on the market side to reduce demand for pangolin products, particularly in China, Hong Kong SAR of China, and Vietnam. In addition, many African range countries need stronger laws protecting pangolins. Finally, range, transit, and market countries need to work together to bring down the kingpins through regional cooperation.”

In 2017, nearly 41 metric tons of pangolin scales from Africa were seized. While in 2012 only one per cent of confiscated pangolins originated from or were seized in Africa, the number rose to 80 – 90 per cent during the last two years. The primary African countries of origin or transit were Nigeria, Cameroon, the DRC and Uganda, while most seized Asian pangolins came from or through Indonesia or Malaysia.  The most frequent destinations were China, Hong Kong and Vietnam, where 79 per cent of the shipments during the past six years were seized or were the intended port of destination. Furthermore, the amount seized represents only a fraction of the actual trade; INTERPOL estimates that only 10 to 20 per cent of contraband is actually found by authorities.

IFAW has been leading efforts to increase protection for pangolins internationally. Working in conjunction with other NGOs, IFAW successfully campaigned to ban all eight species from international commercial trade by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in 2016, which represents the most stringent international protection available.

To learn more about IFAW’s work to protect pangolins, visit


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
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Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
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