Despite victories, pangolins still need protection

Pangolins are poached for their meat and their scales. Demand for pangolin products has pushed the pangolin to be listed as critically endangered. PHOTO © M. Shavez/1StopBrunei WildlifeJoin IFAW and conservationists from around the world as we celebrate the 6th annual World Pangolin Day.

Pangolins are beaver-sized ant-eating mammals found in the tropics and sub-tropics of Africa and Asia. They are the only mammals in the world completely covered by scales. Despite their unique appearance and endearing behavior, pangolins are still relatively unknown. Which is why it may be surprising to many that pangolins are one of the most threatened animals due to demand for their meat and scales. Pangolins scales are used in some Asian cultures as traditional medicine. Their meat is also considered an exotic (and expensive) delicacy. Demand for pangolins has skyrocketed in recent years, earning these animals the unfortunate distinction of being the most trafficked wild mammal in the world.

World Pangolin Day is dedicated to raise awareness for this charismatic animal and the truly existential threats it faces.

In 2016, we saw record seizures of pangolin scales and meat in source countries, transit countries and market countries. Last summer, Hong Kong SAR of China seized 13.4 metric tons of pangolin scales in three separate seizures originating from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana. In December, China seized its largest shipment of pangolin scales ever (from 3.1 metric tons from Nigeria). Going back to 2015, there have been at least 74 seizures of pangolins and pangolin products totaling about 2,300 whole pangolins (alive or dead), over 7,800 metric tons of frozen pangolin meat and over 45,000 metric tons of pangolin scales.

We estimate that these seizures represent approximately 42,000 pangolins poached from the wild and illegally traded. In prior two years (2013 and 2014), seizures represented an estimated 18,500 pangolins poached and illegally traded – less than half of the following two years. Furthermore, the amount seized represents only a fraction of the actual trade. INTERPOL estimates only 10 to 20 percent of contraband is successfully intercepted.

Using these reports, we approximate the actual number of pangolins poached since 2015 to be 420,000.

There was also positive news for pangolins last year. Last October, IFAW worked with scientists, conservationists, NGOs, and country representatives to successfully upgrade international protections for the animal at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Convention of the Parties in South Africa.

As a result, all eight species are now on Appendix I of CITES, which means it is illegal to trade pangolins or their parts internationally. The new regulation went into effect early January 2017 and we have already seen results. Earlier this month, Thai authorities seized 2.9 metric tons of pangolin scales that had been shipped from Congo.

This year will be a critical one for the future of pangolins.

Awareness is at an all-time high and full international protection is on the books, however, governments must be willing to take the next step. Without local enforcement and better domestic regulations, pangolins could still easily be poached to extinction.

Criminals who are caught smuggling pangolins and pangolin products receive light sentences or are not even prosecuted at all. This must change so smugglers and poachers think twice about trafficking pangolins.

IFAW works with governments, enforcement officers, and other conservation groups in pangolin and consumer countries to make sure these unique and charismatic animals are here to stay.

Here are some ways we can help prevent the trafficking of pangolins:

  • Stricter national laws on pangolin trafficking and poaching
  • Better enforcement of laws by customs officials, rangers, and police
  • Higher rate of conviction by improving judicial awareness
  • Scientific studies on pangolin genetics for better tracking of seized scales
  • Scientific studies of natural history and biology for better conservation practices
  • Stronger cooperation between governments for enforcement actions
  • Awareness campaigns in source and destination countries
  • Habitat protection of key pangolin areas



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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime