Research finds illegal pangolin trade may have been underestimated

Monday, 14 December 2015

illegal Pangolin trade

New research has found that the illegal trade in pangolins could be higher than previously estimated by conservationists.

Pangolins, also known as or scaly-anteaters, are little-known mammals that despite being legally protected are traded in large volumes to meet the demand for traditional Asian medicine. 

Professor Vincent Nijman of Oxford Brookes University, who studied the illegal trafficking of pangolins in Indonesia, found that 45 previously largely unrecorded seizures took place in the last two and a half years. As many as 12,000 individual pangolins were confiscated, with most animals coming from the islands of Java and Sumatra bound for China.

The fact that the majority of pangolin seizures from Indonesia are not reported in the English language suggests that levels of the trade or at least the volume of seizures may have been underestimated by some conservationists in the past.

Professor Vincent Nijman, Oxford Brookes University

Despite these seemingly large findings, it is thought that the number of pangolins poached in the wild may be even higher not least because many previous assessments of pangolin trade have relied on English-language reports in societies where English is not widely used.
In the study, a compilation was made of articles, reports and online blog posts which specifically related to the seizure of pangolins in Indonesia. These were then checked to see if the same incidents were reported in English. 

Prof Nijman said: “The fact that the majority of pangolin seizures from Indonesia are not reported in the English language suggests that levels of the trade or at least the volume of seizures may have been underestimated by some conservationists in the past.

“This would justify a reassessment of the levels of pangolin trade in other Asian societies in which English is not widely used.”
It is also widely thought among conservationists that much of the illegal pangolin trade is believed to go undetected by police and custom officials.

Illegal pangolin trade 2

Prof Nijman continued: “The pangolin trade is huge and it continues to be a problem despite efforts to curb the trade and the high-level attention the species has been receiving. 

“It is worth noting that this research focussed on the illegal trade in Indonesia alone and just over the last couple of years. Pangolins can be found across Asia and Africa and they are in increasingly in demand as they are becoming extinct. These findings could be the tip of the iceberg.”

Pangolins, although little known compared to other endangered species, are one of the worlds most trafficked mammals with an estimated one million poached in the wild in the last decade. The animals are in high demand in China and Taiwan where their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The research paper has been published in the TRAFFIC Bulletin and can be found  online.

Image credti: Directorate General Customs, Indonesia