Pangolin populations plummet as poaching and illegal trade intensifies
The Malayan or Sunda Pangolin Manis javanica is a ground-living mammal found in the tropical forests of South-east Asia. Pangolins are related to the anteaters, around 80 cm long, with a body covered in hard scales.
There are four species of pangolin in Asia; Thick-tailed Pangolin Manis crassicaudata, Philippine Pangolin M. culionensis, Sunda Pangolin M. javanica and Chinese Pangolin M. pentadactyla.
All pangolins in illegal trade are wild-sourced as they cannot be captive bred on a commercial scale.
In the wild, pangolins breed slowly, producing just one young at a time, making populations particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation.
Toothless laws encourage rising demand for Asian pangolins
July 2009. Rising demand for pangolins, mostly from mainland China, compounded by lax laws is wiping out the unique toothless anteaters from their native habitats in Southeast Asia, according to a group of leading pangolin experts.
Scaly anteaters have disappeared from large swathes of Cambodia, Viet Nam and Lao PDR
Illegal trade in Asian pangolin meat and scales has caused the scaly anteaters to disappear from large swathes of Cambodia, Viet Nam and Lao PDR, concluded a panel of experts whose findings have been announced by the wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC.
"China has a long history of consuming pangolin as meat and in traditional medicine," the report states. "Due to continual demand and the decreasing Chinese wild population, in the past few years pangolin smuggling from Southeast Asia has resulted in great declines in those countries' wild populations, as well."
Although trade in pangolins is illegal, they are in high demand for their meat and for use in traditional medicines, particularly in China. © Meg Gawler / WWF-Canon
Protected by CITES but still disappearing in great numbers
Although the animals are protected under national legislation in all Asian range states, and have been prohibited from international trade through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 2002, this legislation is having little impact on the illicit trade.
Pangolins are the most frequently encountered mammals seized from illegal traders in Asia, and are highly unusual in not possessing teeth.
Chris Shepherd, Acting Director for TRAFFIC Southeast Asia said, "Pangolins, like the laws designed to protect them, lack bite. Pangolin populations clearly cannot stand the incessant poaching pressure, which can only be stopped by decisive government-backed enforcement action in the region."
Even hunters can't find pangolin in their usual haunts
According to pangolin hunters and traders, there are so few pangolins left in forests throughout Cambodia, Viet Nam and Lao PDR, they are now sourcing animals from their last remaining strongholds in Southeast Asia and beyond.
38 tonnes of pangolin meat seized - African pangolins now being found in AsiaRecent large seizures
Pangolin soup. Huge demand from China has decimated pangolin populations. Credit TRAFFIC
back up these reports. They include 24 tonnes of frozen pangolins from Sumatra, Indonesia, seized in Viet Nam and 14 tonnes of frozen animals seized in Sumatra in 2008. There have also been recent instances of African pangolins seized in Asia.
Pangolins are vital pest controllers
"Pangolins save us millions of dollars a year in pest destruction," says Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. "These shy creatures provide a vital service and we cannot afford to overlook their ecological role as natural controllers of termites and ants."
Law must be enforced
The key to tackling the pangolin crisis is better enforcement of existing national and international laws designed to protect pangolins, better monitoring of the illegal trade, and basic research to find where viable pangolin populations still exist and whether ravaged populations can recover given adequate protection, according to the report.
The experts on pangolins included scientific researchers, government law enforcement officers from most Asian pangolin range States, CITES Management and Scientific Authorities and animal rescue centres, who convened at a workshop hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore at the Singapore Zoo.
TRAFFIC's work on pangolins was supported by National Geographic and Sea World Busch Gardens.
The full report, Proceedings of the workshop on trade and conservation of pangolins native to South and Southeast Asia can be downloaded here.