Toothless laws encourage rising demand for Asian pangolins
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 1:01
TRAFFIC in CITES, Conservation awareness, Enforcement, In Asia, Mammals - pangolins

Rising demand for pangolins for their meat, scales and skin is wiping the animals out of Southeast Asia, according to pangolin experts Click photo to enlarge © Bjorn Olesen  Updates: On 15 July, Guangzhou Customs officials seized more than a tonne—1194 kg—of frozen pangolins and 602 kg of dry rat snake skins. Life for ring leader of wildlife smuggling gang who trafficked 2,000 pangolins and other animals in China. In India, Assam Rifles troops make several pangolin seizures in July. Details at end of release.

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Singapore, 14 July 2009—rising demand for pangolins, mostly from mainland China, compounded by lax laws is wiping out the unique toothless anteaters from their native habitats in Southeast Asia, according to a group of leading pangolin experts.

Illegal trade in Asian pangolin meat and scales has caused the scaly anteaters to disappear from large swathes of Cambodia, Viet Nam and Lao PDR, concluded a panel of experts whose findings were announced today by the wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC.

“China has a long history of consuming pangolin as meat and in traditional medicine,” the report states. “Due to continual demand and the decreasing Chinese wild population, in the past few years pangolin smuggling from Southeast Asia has resulted in great declines in these producing countries’ wild populations, as well.”

The scales are removed from pangolins for use in traditional medicines Click photo to enlarge © TRAFFICAlthough the animals are protected under national legislation in all Asian range states, and have been prohibited from international trade through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 2002, this legislation is having little impact on the illicit trade.

Pangolins are the most frequently encountered mammals seized from illegal traders in Asia, and are highly unusual in not possessing teeth.

“Pangolins, like the laws designed to protect them, lack bite,” commented Chris Shepherd, Acting Director for TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“Pangolin populations clearly cannot stand the incessant poaching pressure, which can only be stopped by decisive government-backed enforcement action in the region.”

Pangolin scales drying in the sun Click photo to enlarge © TRAFFICAccording to pangolin hunters and traders, there are so few pangolins left in forests throughout Cambodia, Viet Nam and Lao PDR, they are now sourcing animals from their last remaining strongholds in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Recent large seizures back up these reports. They include 24 tonnes of frozen pangolins from Sumatra, Indonesia, seized in Viet Nam and 14 tonnes of frozen animals seized in Sumatra in 2008. There have also been recent instances of African pangolins seized in Asia.

“Pangolins save us millions of dollars a year in pest destruction,” says Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “These shy creatures provide a vital service and we cannot afford to overlook their ecological role as natural controllers of termites and ants.”

In the soup: pangolin foetuses are eaten because of a belief they can increase a man's strength Click photo to enlarge © TRAFFICThe key to tackling the pangolin crisis is better enforcement of existing national and international laws designed to protect pangolins, better monitoring of the illegal trade, and basic research to find where viable pangolin populations still exist and whether ravaged populations can recover given adequate protection, according to the report.

The experts on pangolins included scientific researchers, government law enforcement officers from most Asian pangolin range States, CITES Management and Scientific Authorities and animal rescue centres, who convened at a workshop hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore at the Singapore Zoo.

Traditional medicine bottles using pangolin ingredients illegally on sale in China Click photo to enlarge © TRAFFIC TRAFFIC’s work on pangolins was supported by National Geographic and Sea World Busch Gardens.





A 70-second video that gives an overview of the illegal trade decimating pangolin populations in Asia.


1 On 15 July, Guangzhou Customs officials seized more than a tonne—1194 kg—of frozen pangolins and 602 kg of dry rat snake skins from a dock on the Pearl River Estuary, according to a Chinese Government website. Customs said the animals had been transported first to Hong Kong then by fast yacht to Guangdong, rather than the "normal route" via Vietnam then overland to Guangxi, probably because of recent strong enforcement action along the China-Vietnam border.

Chinese Anti-smuggling Website, 22 July 2009

More (in Chinese) at:

2 Beijing, China, 9 July 2009—The leader of a wildlife smuggling gang has been sentenced to life in prison in Guangdong province, for trafficking a menagerie of protected animal parts including over 2,023 Pangolins. The man and six other gang members were caught off the Guangdong coast late last year with a boat load of wildlife that also contained, 153 kg of frozen internal organs of Pangolins, 800 kg of pangolin scales, 732 live Monacle Cobras, 3,904 live Oriental Rat snakes, 32, 393 dried Oriental Rat snake skins and 363 frozen Civet cats. Investigations revealed that the gang left Lufeng Jiazi port in Shanwei for Malaysian waters on November 26 last year, in a fishing boat bearing a fake license plate.

They arrived in Malaysian waters on 1 December where they made contact with another fishing vessel that was carrying the wildlife. The gang leader then arranged to have several bags of frozen animals and cages containing snakes loaded onto the gang’s boat. On their return trip, the gang was stopped by Shantou Customs at Haizehnyan, near the Guangdong Coast, and their illegal haul was seized. Shantou Customs released news of the judgment on Tuesday.

Apart from life imprisonment sentence, the Shanwei Court also ordered the gang leader’s personal property seized, the Guangzhou Daily reported. The court also sentenced six other gang members to between three and 15 in prison, the report said. The origin of the smuggled wildlife is unclear – Pangolins, Oriental Rat snakes and Civet cats occur throughout Southeast Asia and all three are found in both Malaysia and Indonesia. However, China’s Custom’s website reports that the animals were smuggled from Malaysia.

3 India—Troops of the Assam Rifles in India made several small-scale seizures of pangolin parts in July, including 2.8 kg of pangolin shells seized on 2 July, followed by 2.3 kg of pangolin scales a day later, both at Bongyang checkpoint, 4.5 kg of pangolin shells at Khudengthabi checkpost on 8 July and 950 gms of pangolin shells on 12 July.

4 The full report: Proceedings of the workshop on trade and conservation of pangolins native to South and Southeast Asia (PDF, 3 MB)

5 There are four species of pangolin in Asia; Thick-tailed Pangolin Manis crassicaudata, Philippine Pangolin M. culionensis, Sunda Pangolin M. javanica and Chinese Pangolin M. pentadactyla.

6 All pangolins in illegal trade are wild-sourced as they cannot be captive bred on a commercial scale.

7 In the wild, pangolins breed slowly, producing just one young at a time, making populations particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation.

For further information:
Elizabeth John, Senior Communications Officer, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Tel: +603 7880 3940,

Richard Thomas, Global Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC, +44 1223 279068.

Sarah Janicke, Species Communications Manager, WWF International,, +41 79 528 8641.

Sarah Horsley, Media Relations Officer, IUCN,, +41 22 999 0127.

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