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Illegal trading in pangolins and other wild animals threatens them with extinction

Tree pangolin. Credit: Valerius TygartMore than a million pangolins may have been caught and sold in the last 10 years. With sales thought to be worth around $19 billion a year, pangolins are now the most illegally traded mammal in the world. The demand for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, and for their scales, which are used in traditional medicine, is devastating populations. Already vulnerable because of the loss of their forest habitat, all eight species of pangolin now feature on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of animals threatened with extinction. How many of these solitary, nocturnal creatures are left in the wild is unknown.



Sunda pangolin. Credit: Piekfrosch
Pangolins are currently listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This allows for controlled, lawful trade—but only if this trade is not a threat to wild populations. This loophole has provided opportunities for poachers to profit from illegal trade in pangolins. It is estimated that 100,000 pangolins are captured every year—the exact number is uncertain—from across Africa and Asia. Most are shipped live to China and Vietnam, where their meat and scales are sold.

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