Wildlife Crime - Pangolin scales highlighting how demand for pangolin scales in China drives poaching and trafficking across Africa and Asia - UNODC Report

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Pangolins are reclusive nocturnal crea­tures and the only mammal wholly covered in scales. They remain elu­sive, with researchers having limited knowledge of their ecology, yet they are now arguably the most heav­ily trafficked wild mammal in the world.2 There has been a sustained increase in seizures of the species since 2014 (Figure 1). Due largely to their exploitation in illegal trade, all spe­cies of pangolin were transferred from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I at the CITES Conference of the Parties in 2016.

There are eight species of pangolin: four found in Asia and four found in Africa. They have traditionally been consumed in both regions, but only recently have the two markets met.

Today, demand for pangolins in Asia is being supplied by pangolins from Africa. In both regions, pangolins are killed for their meat and their scales, which have been used medicinally. Pangolin products have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat a wide range of ailments. The scales are said to promote blood circulation and increase lactation in pregnant women, while the meat is used as a tonic. They are also used as medicine in Africa. In Nigeria, for example, pan­golin parts are used to treat a wide range of physical and psychological conditions.

All eight species of pangolins are believed to be in decline, but since exact population counts are unavail­able, it is difficult to determine the conservation impact of the illegal trade.  The sheer volume of seizures, though, suggests unsustainable har­vesting, a hypothesis corroborated by hunters interviewed by UNODC in Uganda and Cameroon in 2018, who reported that pangolins are becoming harder to find.

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