What are the main threats to pangolins?
The main cause of pangolin population declines is poaching for their meat and scales, driven particularly by demand from China and Vietnam. Pangolin meat is consumed as a sign of status in upmarket restaurants. Pangolin scales are used as an ingredient in traditional medicine to treat a wide range of ailments, from cancer to acne. There is no scientific evidence for their effectiveness, which is not surprising as their scales are made of keratin – the same stuff as fingernails.
More than a million pangolins are estimated to have been taken from the wild since 2000. Asia’s four pangolin species have taken the biggest hit, but the impact is global. Recently there has been a massive increase in the volume of African pangolin species recorded in the illegal trade. We don’t know how many pangolins are left in the wild, but traffickers are increasingly targeting African species – a sure sign that Asian pangolin populations have crashed to the point where demand cannot be met locally.
The past few years have witnessed seizures of pangolin scales in industrial quantities. In August 2021, a shipment weighing an eye-watering 17 tonnes was intercepted in Nigeria, a notorious hub for wildlife trafficking.
Traditionally, Africa’s pangolins were poached mainly for subsistence, but also for their scales and other body parts, which have cultural uses. This harvest was rarely on a commercial scale, but there is increasing evidence that the continent’s pangolins are now being hoovered up in unprecedented numbers to supply not only the Asian market, but also wealthy African consumers.
Indiscriminate snaring, particularly in Southeast Asia, also poses a huge threat to pangolins even when they are not directly targeted.
How can we help to save pangolins?
At Fauna & Flora we are working to protect the remaining pangolin populations – either directly or indirectly – at many of our project sites in Africa and Asia.
As part of our increased efforts to protect pangolins across our project sites in Africa, Fauna & Flora and our partners are not only gathering crucial data on trade and consumption, but also carrying out biomonitoring activities to detect the presence of these animals and track their movements in the wild, in order to learn more about them. Our work ranges from pangolin tagging in Liberia and Guinea to camera-trap surveys in South Sudan and the development of a national action plan for pangolins in Kenya.
In Southeast Asia, Fauna & Flora is helping to reduce poaching and trafficking of Sunda pangolins from Sumatra’s Kerinci Seblat National Park, thanks to our long-running work to protect Sumatran tigers with our local partners in Indonesia; the international wildlife trade gangs involved in tiger poaching are often the same people who target pangolins. Disrupting these networks saves pangolin as well as tigers. Elsewhere in Asia, our illegal wildlife trade programme is protecting pangolins in Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.