Latest 30-tonne haul shows pangolins continue to be illegally traded in massive quantities

The ongoing pressure of illegal trade on pangolins was thrown into sharp relief today (12 February) with news of a record 30-tonne seizure in Malaysia..

Despite the up-listing of all eight pangolin species to the highest level of international protection, the industrial-scale poaching and illegal trade persists.

Under the auspices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the international community agreed in 2016 to completely prohibit legal international trade in all eight pangolin species by moving the creature to its Appendix 1 protection.

pangolin shutterstockAt the time, this was lauded as a lifeline for imperilled pangolin populations across Asia and Africa.

The up-listing was in response to the increasingly threatened status of all pangolin species due to an escalating global trade to supply pangolin body parts and meat to markets in East Asia and South-East Asia.

Despite the strengthened global protection for pangolins, the transnational illegal trade in them continues unabated and at an alarming scale.

We have been documenting and monitoring publicly reported pangolin seizures since 2000. Of approximately 1,000 seizures, nine of the top 12 largest by weight have occurred during the past six months, since September 2018. These have been in China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Nigeria. Notable cases have included:

  • February 2019, Sabah State, Malaysia: 30-tonne seizure comprising 1,800 boxes of frozen pangolins, 572 more frozen pangolins, 61 live pangolins and 361kg of pangolin scales
  • January 2019, Uganda: seizure of more than 423kg of pangolin scales in a shipment from South Sudan en route to Vietnam
  • January 2019, Hong Kong, China: seizure of 8.2 tonnes of pangolin scales in a shipment from Nigeria
  • December 2018, Lagos, Nigeria: seizure of 7.5 tonnes of pangolin scales
  • October 2018, Danang, Vietnam: seizure of more than six tonnes of pangolin scales in a shipment from Nigeria.
Pangolin scales seized by Hong Kong Customs, May 2017

Pangolin scales seized by Hong Kong Customs, May 2017 (c) Hong Kong Customs

Chris Hamley, Senior Pangolin Campaigner, said: “These seizures likely reflect only a fraction of the actual global illegal trade in pangolins. If the trade continues at such a large scale, all pangolin species will be pushed to extinction.”

In late 2018, we initiated a new campaign specifically focused on global pangolin trade policy and trafficking issues.

We are calling for the adoption and implementation of strong legal protections for pangolins across all source, transit and destination countries and the use of pro-active law enforcement approaches to dismantle transnational pangolin trafficking syndicates.