Pangolins, also called “scaly anteaters” in the West or “ground dragons” in the East, are any of eight species of armored mammals in the order Pholidota, distant relatives of carnivores. Four species of pangolin are native to Asia while the other four are native to the African continent. Consumers were once primarily interested in pangolins for the perceived medicinal benefit of using their keratin scales in folk medicines. But the animal’s meat is also sold as a delicacy in restaurants and markets dealing in illegal meats with reports of demand for pangolin meat far outweighing the demand of medicines. Large shipments of pangolin scales are sometimes intercepted along with ivory (page 53) or other illegal wildlife parts, suggesting that wildlife traffickers are using the same smuggling routes and methods.
Prior to the ban on international trade of the species in place since 2017, pangolins were a source of bushmeat as well as ingredients for traditional folk medicines in both Asia and Africa. As a result few nations acting as entrepôts for illegal traffickers, or with native pangolin populations being illegally exploited, would have formed large and centrally-located government stockpiles of pangolin meat or scales as has happened with seized ivory and rhino horn.
As more has been discovered about the elusive pangolin species, it has been reported that they were both more common than originally thought and illegal trafficking has been happening for longer than many people knew and in much greater number. However the scale of trafficking has alarmed non-governmental organizations and governments organizations concerned with protecting the environment with estimates ranging from 400,000 to 2,700,000 pangolins killed each year solely in Central and West Africa. Recent reports suggest that, by number, pangolins are currently the world’s most illegally trafficked group of mammalian species, increasing their vulnerability of extinction. All eight species of pangolin received international protected status under a CITES Appendix I listing which went into effect at the start of 2017.
Pangolin Scale Burn Events
2018, December 6: Malaysia – At Port Dickson the government of Malaysia incinerated roughly 2,800 kilograms (6,170 pounds) of pangolin scales confiscated “between May – September 2017” from seized shipments originating in Africa. Royal Malaysian Customs seized two shipments at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, with the third shipment of approximately 2,100 kilograms seized at a commercial seaport. However this is a fraction of the total pangolin parts seized by the country throughout 2017 which were estimated to weigh over 23,000 kg.
2017, February 17: Cameroon – After designating the native species protected from all forms of hunting, Cameroon burned 3,094 kilograms (6,610 pounds) of pangolin scales in Yaoundé, representing approximately 38 percent of their 8,134 kilogram (17,932 pound) stockpile of confiscated pangolin scales. According to officials plans were already in place by February of 2017 to destroy the remaining stockpiles at a later date. Cameroon has been recognized as the first African nation to hold a public burning of seized pangolin scales. [Photos from Yaoundé]
2015 April 30: Indonesia – Roughly 5,000 kilograms (11,023 pounds) of frozen pangolins, and an additional 77 kilograms (170 pounds) of scales, were burned in Medan, Indonesia. Officials believe the pangolins originated in Sumatra and were bound for China. 96 live pangolins were rescued during the 23 April raid, but their situation is unknown. [Photos from Medan]