Commercial pangolin farming will very likely have a negative impact on pangolin conservation

A new academic paper shows that pangolin farming offers little potential to meet consumer demand for the endangered creature’s scales.  

In China, companies can be licensed by provincial forestry departments to legally breed pangolins in captivity.

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

(c) African Pangolin Working Group

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) trade records show that in 2015, before all eight pangolin species were uplisted to Appendix I protections, China imported 500 living white-bellied, black-bellied and giant pangolins from Nigeria for captive-breeding purposes.

The new study evaluates commercial captive-breeding against 17 conditions to understand its impact on wild populations. It concludes that only between four and six of these conditions are met and raises several key issues demonstrating that captive-breeding is unlikely to benefit the conservation of wild pangolin populations.

For commercial captive-breeding to be successful it would be necessary for it to offset the supply of wild caught pangolins but since pangolins are highly susceptible to stress and disease, many attempts to breed them in captivity have failed. There are very few examples of captive-breeding of pangolins from the second generation. Therefore, breeding them at a scale to meet demand is not considered possible.

Even if commercial captive-breeding were to be successful, it is still likely that wild pangolins would continue to be poached since they carry such a high financial value, there is weak control of poaching and consumers prefer wild-sourced pangolin products.

Dead pangolins seized by police in South China's Guangdong province, September 12, 2015 (Photo CFP)

Seizure of dead pangolins, Guangdong, China

With a lack of effective captive-breeding certification and regulatory mechanisms in Asia and Africa, it is possible that those engaged in captive-breeding are illegally sourcing wild-caught pangolin scales to launder them through a legal supply chain.

Chris Hamley, our Senior Pangolin Campaigner, said: “It is clear there are major flaws in China’s current policy of promoting and licensing the captive-breeding of pangolins.

“This comprehensive evaluation shows above all that captive-breeding cannot meet demand and is very likely to contribute to the continued decimation of wild pangolin populations across Africa and Asia.”