Close up image of a ground pangolin (c) African Pangolin Working Group

© African Pangolin Working Group

CITES Parties can and must do more to address the dire impacts of global illegal pangolin trade

A new briefing document outlines EIA’s findings and recommendations on the key issues relating to global illegal pangolin trade.

Following decades of overexploitation due to international trade, in 2016 all eight pangolin species were uplisted from Appendix II to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

This made the international commercial trade in pangolins and their derivatives illegal but, despite this, the global pangolin trafficking crisis has continued, as we document in CITES Briefing Document: The role of transnational criminal networks and China’s legal pangolin scale medicine market in driving the global illegal pangolin trade.

Between 2017, when the Appendix I listing entered force, and the present day, EIA has documented almost 300 tonnes of pangolin scales seized globally. Many of these have been trafficked from West, Central and East Africa to Vietnam and China, where they are used in traditional medicine.

Pangolin scales are trafficked by transnational criminal networks that operate with high levels impunity.

EIA recognises that there are two key factors driving the global illegal pangolin trade. Firstly, 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 secondly, a lack of fair and effective criminal justice responses to address the involvement of transnational criminal networks in pangolin trafficking.

At the 18thCITES Conference of Parties (CoP18), a Decision (18.240, paragraph c) was made for the CITES Secretariat to prepare a report on pangolins to present information on their conservation status, legal and illegal trade, as well as stockpile management and enforcement issues. It will be considered at the 74th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, which is tentatively scheduled for March 2022.

Pangolin products found on sale in China

Although the timelines for the submission and review of this report are exceptionally slow, it represents an important opportunity to feed information into CITES decision-making processes.

Chris Hamley, our Pangolin Campaign Deputy Leader, said: “EIA is calling on CITES Parties, the CITES Secretariat and Animals Committee to consider our briefing document when reviewing the report produced under the CoP18 Decision.

“It is vital that CITES Parties call for more urgent action from range, transit and destination countries to implement effective international law enforcement efforts targeting the criminal networks involved in pangolin trafficking.

“Above all, it is essential that the international community, particularly those countries most affected by pangolin trafficking, strongly encourage the Government of China to eliminate demand for pangolin specimens, including legal use for TCM. This would have a meaningful impact on reducing much of the trafficking.”