Illegal trade seizures: Pangolins

Pangolins are one of the most illegally traded species on the planet, killed for their meat and scales.

Globally, there are eight species of pangolin distributed across the continents of Asia and Africa. The four in Asia are the Indian pangolin, Philippine pangolin, Sunda pangolin and Chinese pangolin, and the four in Africa are the black-bellied pangolin, white-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin and Temminck’s ground pangolin.

Over the past decade there has been a dramatic increase in the quantity of pangolins trafficked from Africa and Asia. Acknowledging the rapid escalation in the scale of the trans-national trade, all eight pangolin species were uplisted to Appendix I at the Conference of the Parties to CITES in South Africa in September 2016.

Poaching for trade to supply consumers locally and internationally with scales and meat is the primary threat to the survival of all pangolin species. Scales are used in traditional medicines and for jewellery, particularly in East and South East Asia, and the meat is consumed across Africa and Asia as a subsistence and delicacy status food.

Publicly available seizure data suggests that the scale of illegal pangolin trade has increased significantly since 2008.

Methodology of collecting data 

The map is based on a subset of seizure incidents from 2000 to 2018, compiled from publicly available records and represents only a fraction of actual trade during that period (because it reflects reporting and law enforcement effort). Where scales have been seized, and where possible, the number of pangolins required to provide that volume has been roughly estimated using a mean weight of 5kg per adult. Where no specific location was given, a data point has been placed roughly in the centre of the country in which the seizure occurred. Locations with multiple seizures are coloured darker than those with fewer seizures.

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This map was last updated in March 2019.

Key takeouts   

  • Pangolins are one of the most illegally traded mammal species on the planet
  • They are primarily killed for their meat to demonstrate status and their scales for use in traditional medicine
  • There are eight species of pangolin, four in Asia and four in Africa
  • All eight pangolin species were uplisted to CITES Appendix I in 2016
  • Illegal trade has increased significantly since 2008
  • As many as one million pangolins have been illegally traded within Asia in the past 10 to 15 years
  • Analysis of available crime reports suggests that 160,000 individual pangolins have been seized during the past 16 years
  • If contraband seized represents as little as 10 per cent of actual illegal trade, the total number of pangolins traded could be nearer one-and-a-half million during the period
  • With rapidly decreasing populations of Asian pangolin species due to poaching, a significant growth in the trade of African pangolin species has been observed in the past eight years.

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If you wish to utilise our illegal trade seizure maps and need access to the raw data or have information you wish to submit, please contact us.