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A rolled up pangolin
A rolled up pangolin | © Joel Alves / Shutterstock

This Is the Most Trafficked Mammal in the World

Picture of Carina Claassens
Updated: 23 April 2018
Found in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, the pangolin is a shy, awkward creature unknown in many parts of the world. Sadly, these animals often fall victim to the flourishing illegal wildlife trade, mainly due to the belief that their scales carry healing properties.

Most recognised by their full armour of scales, pangolins are solitary mammals commonly mistaken as reptiles. When threatened, they comically roll themselves up into a perfect ball, exposing their sharp scales.

Only eight species of pangolins are found in Asia and Africa, and all range from either vulnerable to critically endangered. Four species – the black-bellied and white-bellied pangolins, the giant ground pangolin, and Temminck’s ground pangolin – live in Africa, while the Indian pangolin, the Philippine pangolin, the Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin are found in Asia.

All eight species are protected under both national and international laws, and two species (the Sunda and Chinese pangolins) are listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A pangolin hunting for ants
A pangolin hunting for ants | © 2630ben/Shutterstock

The plight of the pangolin

Herbal remedies and medicinal traditions fuel the illegal poaching and trade of these shy mammals. Annamiticus, an educational site about endangered species, states that between 100,000 and 210,000 pangolins were trafficked from 2011 to 2013 .

Being nocturnal and scarce, no one really knows just how many of these animals are left, but with poaching numbers being as high as they are, there can’t be too many.

In China and Vietnam, pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are used in medicinal concoctions to treat everything from asthma to arthritis. And unfortunately, the demand keeps growing.

Looking for ants
Looking for ants | © 2630ben/Shutterstock

What is being done to aid conservation?

In 2016, a global agreement at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ended all legal trade of pangolins, thereby giving them full protection.

According to CITES, a total of 1,557 seizures involving an estimated 192,576 pangolins took place between 1999 and 2017. Their data also indicates that illegal trade in pangolins significantly escalated in