5 September, 2014

It is believed more than one million pangolins have been taken from the wild in the past decade. Pangolin populations in Asia are in freefall and inter-continental trade in African pangolin parts to Asia is now on the rise.
   This trade involves live animals as well as meat, considered to be a luxury food item in Asian consumer markets, most conspicuously China and Vietnam. Pangolin scales are also traded heavily here – used as ingredients in traditional Asian medicines.
   Recent confiscations of tons of pangolin scales have highlighted this growing problem. The fact that pangolin scales have no medicinal properties does not prevent their extensive use for things such as reducing swelling and improving blood circulation. As is the case for rhino horn, recent rumors of cancer-curing properties have led to increased demand.
   This trade occurs despite pangolins being a protected species in most countries they occur in, being listed in Appendix II of CITES, and subject to zero export quotas in Asia.

13-pangolins (1)Pangolin-soup-TRAFFIC
Top & Bottom: Some practitioners of Asian traditional medicine believe that eating pangolin-foetus increases a man’s virility.
(Header image: Captured pangolin near Yagoi, Sierra Leone.
©Alfred Weidinger)

The recent increase in commercial trade between Africa and Asia adds a whole new perspective to the security of African pangolin populations.
   I thought that this reference from a 2007 article in The Guardian, which quotes a Guangdong, China chef explaining how pangolins are kept alive, and then slaughtered, displays the enormous gulf between the East and the West’s attitude towards pangolins and other animal species:

“We keep them alive in cages until the customer makes an order. Then we hammer them unconscious, cut their throats and drain the blood. It is a slow death. We then boil them to remove the scales. We cut the meat into small pieces and use it to make a number of dishes, including braised meat and soup. Usually the customers take the blood home with them afterwards.”

In Southern Africa, the Cape pangolin is threatened by land management practices such as the installation of electric fences, which are responsible for a significant number of fatalities each year due to their scales catching on the wire, and the pangolin’s protective instinct to roll into a ball, thereby prolonging the electric shock. African pangolins are also hunted and poached locally as a source of food, and their scales are used in traditional African medicine.

1: A pangolin ensnared on an electric fence.
2: Pangolins are grilled and scaled.
3: Two pangolins among a haul of freshly killed animals for bushmeat.
4: Scaled pangolins.
©African Pangolin Working Group

African pangolin conservation faces some major issues and focussed conservation efforts are required to halt the slide. The African Pangolin Working Group is instrumental in developing an understanding of the issues facing the 4 species. This energetic and dedicated team would appreciate your assistance and financial support.africa-geographic-logo



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  • Gareth Poole

    Horrible to see yet another amazing species under so much threat from the East. Conservation education will be one of the biggest ways we stop this. That plus increased security here in South Africa. Security at our Borders, Airports and Harbors to stop the illegal trade !!!!

    • Penny Parker

      Security at the “exit points” is crucial, I agree!

  • Robert Hii

    Love the title of this article.

    • caspmct


  • Penny Parker

    The cultural attitude gap regarding wildlife conservation and species protection is so large and it makes for an uphill battle to stop the demand. Great article to increase the awareness!