Asia's Unceasing pangolin demand

Published 19 February 2022

  Tiếng Việt 

Asia's Unceasing Pangolin Demand

More than 330 tonnes of pangolins and their parts have been seized through enforcement action in Asia from 2015 to 2021, pointing to a sustained threat to the world’s most trafficked mammal.

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A new TRAFFIC rapid analysis of confiscations in the region, released today on World Pangolin Day, looked at 1,141 seizure incidents involving both African and Asian pangolin species in Asia.

Pangolins are seized whole, both dead or alive, and also as parts and therefore the actual volumes could be higher since the weights of seizures are not always made public.

Scales, which are widely used in traditional medicine, accounted for a majority of what was seized in Asia.

More than half the weight of pangolins and parts seized in Asia originated in Africa, indicating the continued capture of pangolins in Africa to feed Asian demand.  

Asia’s pangolin traffickers are relentless, and the damage being done is not just to Asia’s four endangered pangolin species. The illegal trade and an insatiable demand for pangolins continues to drain wild pangolin populations in Africa too.”

Ramacandra Wong, TRAFFIC’s Senior Analyst for Southeast Asia

The period from 2017 to 2019, saw some of the largest confiscations, mostly involving African pangolin scales. During this time, more than 609 confiscations occurred in Asia, accounting for the seizure of 244,600 kg of scales and 10,971 individual animals.

However, pangolin seizures dipped in more recent years – from 2020-2021 – with some 233 seizure incidents recorded involving 13,389 kg of scales and 247 individual animals.

The drop is attributed to shutdowns and disruptions in the movement of products through the global transportation system as a result of Covid-19, rather than actual reduction in poaching levels.

“These lower seizure numbers should be treated with caution. They are transient and as borders re-open and international commerce picks up, so will trafficking levels and hopefully detection levels too,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

What remains crucial – and wanting – are a crackdown on criminal groups and open wildlife markets that operate with impunity and holding consumers accountable for illegal purchases while working to reduce consumers demand at the same time.”

Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia

Sunda Pangolin / Kanitha Krishnasamy TRAFFIC

Evidence of large-scale pangolin seizures since 2020 continues, particularly of shipments seized in Africa enroute to Asia, demonstrating that raw pangolin scales continue to be sought in Asia to cater to the demand.

TRAFFIC data showed that 91% of the total volume seized in Asia since 2015 was by mainland China, Viet Nam, Hong Kong SAR, Malaysia and Singapore. 

While East and Southeast Asia have long been part of the problem as a source, transit and destination, India is seeing a rise in poaching and illegal trade.

India’s seizures, though not the highest by volume, were the greatest in number in Asia from 2015-2021. The frequency of pangolin seizures has spiked in recent years. Close to 70% of India’s 287 seizures occurred from 2019-2021.

This is extremely concerning and if this level of poaching and trade continues, we could well find Indian Pangolin Manis crassicaudata joining the ranks of its other Asian counterparts as Critically Endangered.”

Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC India

Asia’s three other pangolins species are already classified as Critically Endangered due to trade threats. 

Since 2019, all pangolin species have been prohibited from commercial international trade. Despite this, criminal networks continue to source and traffic pangolins in alarming numbers.

TRAFFIC calls on Asian governments to find the will and ways to get ahead of poachers, traffickers, open markets and relentless consumer demand in order to give pangolins a chance at survival.


World Pangolin Day 2022

On the eve of World Pangolin Day 2022, TRAFFIC, a Cambridge Conservation Initiative partner, shared a new video of
Sir David Attenborough to raise awareness of the plight of the pangolin – the world’s most trafficked mammal. 

Watch Sir David Attenborough's message