Why are pangolin trafficked

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Pangolins are trafficked primarily for their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine and as a luxury food in Vietnam and China.

Historically, pangolins were poached primarily for bushmeat, with their scales cast aside as byproducts.

However, over the last decade, the price fetched for skins, scales, and the whole animal in countries like Vietnam and China, as well as in the US, has resulted in decimated populations

An estimated 195,000 pangolins were trafficked in 2019 for their scales alone. Pangolins are also consumed as bushmeat in some African countries.

the primary reasons behind the high demand for pangolins in illegal wildlife trafficking?

The primary reasons behind the high demand for pangolins in illegal wildlife trafficking are:

  1. Traditional Medicine: Pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine in China and Vietnam for a variety of ailments1. The scales are believed to have healing properties, such as reducing inflammation and improving blood circulation3.
  2. Meat: Pangolins have long provided meat for people in Africa and Asia1. They are considered a delicacy in some countries and are often served at banquets and other special occasions5.
  3. Status Symbol: Pangolin products, such as scales and meat, are seen as a status symbol in some cultures4. This has led to an increase in demand for pangolin products, particularly in China and Vietnam.
  4. Profit: The illegal trade in pangolins is a lucrative business, with pangolin scales fetching high prices on the black market. Criminal networks involved in the illegal wildlife trade are increasingly turning to pangolins due to the high profits that can be made.

Despite an international trade ban on all eight pangolin species that went into effect in 2017, the illegal trade in pangolins continues to grow.

Efforts to curb the trade have focused on reducing the supply side, but demand remains high and there is a thriving black market.

the cultural and traditional beliefs or uses of pangolins that drive their illegal trade?

The illegal trade of pangolins is driven by cultural and traditional beliefs and uses.

Here are some examples:

  • Traditional Medicine: Pangolins are used as a source of traditional medicine in some African countries, including Ghana2. Pangolin scales are believed to have healing properties and are used to treat a variety of ailments in China and Vietnam5. The high demand for pangolin scales in traditional medicine is one of the main drivers of the illegal trade1.
  • Culinary Traditions: In some Asian countries, pangolins are considered a delicacy and are served in restaurants3. In some cases, pangolins are presented live before being slaughtered for the meal3.
  • Cultural Significance: Pangolins play a culturally important role in Ghanaian traditional pharmacopoeia2. In some African and Asian cultures, pangolins are also used in traditional ceremonies and rituals1.

These cultural and traditional beliefs and uses have contributed to the illegal trade of pangolins, which has been growing in recent years5

The illegal trade is driven by criminal networks that smuggle pangolins and their derivatives across international borders4. Poverty is also a contributing factor, as it can drive people to participate in the illegal wildlife trade1

To protect pangolins, it is important to understand and address the cultural and traditional beliefs and uses that drive their illegal trade.

Multidisciplinary studies are needed to investigate the social, cultural, and economic aspects of pangolin use in traditional medicinal practices in Africa and Asia2.

the value of pangolin products, that incentivize poaching and trafficking?

Pangolins are one of the most trafficked mammals in the world, valued for their meat and scales.

Data shows that a pangolin is poached every three to five minutes.

The demand for pangolin products incentivizes poaching and trafficking, which has implications beyond the obvious risks to biodiversity.

The following are some of the reasons why pangolin products are in demand:

  • Traditional medicine: Pangolin scales are boiled off their bodies for use in traditional medicine.
  • Delicacy: Pangolin meat is considered a high-end delicacy in some countries, particularly in Southeast Asia.
  • Healing tonic: Pangolin blood is seen as a healing tonic.

Poaching is strongly driven by foreign demand, although local factors such as conflicts between farmers and conservation areas such as national parks also play a role.

China and other Southeast Asian countries are major players in Central Africa’s wildlife trafficking trade, although China has taken some action to curb the pangolin trade in recent years.

The value of pangolin products incentivizes poaching and trafficking, which has devastating consequences for pangolin populations and biodiversity as a whole.

It is important to combat wildlife trafficking and address the demand for pangolin products through education, awareness campaigns, and law enforcement efforts.

How international laws and regulations play a role in combating pangolin trafficking?

International laws and regulations play a crucial role in combating pangolin trafficking.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

In 2016, CITES upgraded all eight species of pangolins to Appendix I, which prohibits all commercial international trade in pangolins and their parts.

However, despite this, the global pangolin trafficking crisis has continued, driven by the role of consumer demand in China, where pharmaceutical companies and hospitals can legally produce and sell traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) products containing pangolin scales, and a lack of fair and effective criminal justice responses to address the involvement of transnational criminal networks in pangolin trafficking.

To combat pangolin trafficking, international organizations and governments have taken various measures, including:

  • Enforcement: Governments have increased enforcement efforts to detect and intercept pangolin trafficking.

    For example, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has developed a toolkit to assist law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting pangolin trafficking cases.
  • Awareness-raising: International organizations and NGOs have raised awareness about the plight of pangolins and the impacts of pangolin trafficking.

    For example, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has conducted investigations into the illegal pangolin trade and produced reports to raise awareness about the issue.
  • Capacity-building: International organizations have provided technical and financial assistance to countries to strengthen their capacity to combat pangolin trafficking.

    For example, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided support to partner countries to improve their law and judicial systems, and to reduce consumer demand for illegal wildlife products.
  • International cooperation: Governments have worked together to strengthen international legal cooperation to combat pangolin trafficking.

    For example, a recent study proposed strengthening international legal instruments to combat transnational wildlife trafficking, and highlighted the role of Myanmar in the smuggling of pangolins into China.