Asian Pangolins Being Consumed to Extinction

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, TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, said today.


Undercover photo courtesy TRAFFIC

“Illegal trade in Asian pangolin meat and scales has caused the scaly anteaters to disappear from large swathes of Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR,” TRAFFIC said a panel of experts had concluded.

The investigation was funded in part by Sea World & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and the National Geographic Society’s Conservation Trust. (A description of the research grant can be read at the bottom of this page.)

“China has a long history of consuming pangolin as meat and in traditional medicine,” a TRAFFIC report on the investigation 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.”


Undercover photo courtesy TRAFFIC

Although 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, TRAFFIC said in a statement.

Watch this National Geographic video “What in the World is a Pangolin?”

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

“Pangolins, like the laws designed to protect them, lack bite,” said 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,”  Shepherd added.


Undercover picture of pangolins courtesy TRAFFIC

According to pangolin hunters and traders, there are so few pangolins left in forests throughout Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR, they are now sourcing animals from their last remaining strongholds in Southeast Asia and beyond, TRAFFIC said.

“Recent large seizures back up these reports. They include 24 tonnes of frozen pangolins from Sumatra, Indonesia, seized in Vietnam this March and 14 tonnes of frozen animals seized in Sumatra this April. There have also been recent instances of African pangolins seized in Asia.”

“Pangolins save us millions of dollars a year in pest destruction … we cannot afford to overlook their ecological role as natural controllers of termites and ants.”

“Pangolins save us millions of dollars a year in pest destruction,” says 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.”


Pangolin photo by Bjorn Olesen/TRAFFIC

The 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 TRAFFIC

The experts on pangolins consulted in the investigation 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.

Watch this TRAFFIC video “Pangolins in peril”:

National Geographic Grant


The National Geographic Conservation Trust contributed to the funding of the TRAFFIC investigation with a grant made in 2007.

Here is the project description:

Regardless of there being no legal trade permitted under national or international regulations, pangolins are the most numerous mammal species found in confiscated cargoes throughout Southeast Asia.


Photo of traditional medicines using pangolin body parts courtesy TRAFFIC

The majority of these shipments are bound for China, for use in traditional medicines and for consumption as wild meat and tonic food.

The bulk of the pangolins currently in trade are likely Manis javanica sourced from Malaysia and Indonesia, as populations in most other range countries have already been decimated.


Undercover photo of pangolin scales courtesy TRAFFIC

Middlemen in Singapore are likely to play a significant role in directing trade, but pangolins have been seized regularly in Malaysia, Thailand, Lao PDR and Vietnam en route to end-use markets.

However, very little is known of the actual dynamics of this trade, making focused interventions difficult.

TRAFFIC aims to examine and document the trade in detail and work closely with relevant authorities to take action to save pangolins from further illegal exploitation.

More about pangolins from TRAFFIC:

The full report, “Proceedings of the workshop on trade and conservation of pangolins native to South and Southeast Asia” can be downloaded at

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).

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


Photo of pangolin courtesy TRAFFIC

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

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint programme of IUCN and WWF.  


Undercover photo of pangolins courtesy TRAFFIC

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