Pangolins – poaching, trafficking and publicity

The illegal trade in fauna and flora is worth between US$7 and US$23 billion per year according to the UN and Interpol. Of this total, however, the sale of valuable commodities such as ivory, rhino horn and tiger accounted for only around US$75m in 2010. Against the backcloth of the 35,000 elephants slaughtered for their ivory in 2012 and 810 rhinos for their horns, the world’s most heavily trafficked CITES-listed mammal is actually the pangolin.

Pangolin scales (and other body parts) are used in Chinese traditional medicine, and pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in Asia. Whilst the precise numbers traded, and the impact on their populations in the wild, are difficult to quantify, seizures in the region of 10,000 per year (likely only a fraction of the numbers that reach the marketplace), the rapid decline of Asian populations and the apparent shift in trade from Asian to African species, suggests that the situation is critical.

There are eight species of pangolins, all of which were listed on CITES Appendix I in September 2016. Since about 2013 (and particularly during 2015 and 2016) there have been a series of ‘popular’ events featuring pangolins – for example, the appearance of pangolins in ‘Angry Birds’ in November 2014. Prior to this little was known about these species, their uses or the extent of their trade. We are currently exploring the role of the editorial and social media in raising the profile of this little-known species, and attempting to identify key events in the lead up to the ban on pangolin trade. This will not be the end of the story, but it is a start, and we hope to learn lessons that could be applied to other as little-known cases of species impacted by the wildlife trade.

Related Pages

Wildlife Trade
Animal welfare in the wildlife trade

Global trade in exotic pets
Lion bones
The impact of bear bile farming on conservation of wild bears


Zhou, Y. B., C. Newman, and D. W. Macdonald. 2014. Scaling up pangolin protection: illegal trade in pangolin surpasses ivory and rhino horn. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12:97-98.

Newman, C., D. W. Macdonald, and Y. B. Zhou. 2014. Pangolin: illegal medicine trade threatens these scaly mammals with extinction.


Prof. Youbing Zhou