Widespread evidence of ongoing illegal pangolin trade in China

Traffic 20 Sep 16;
Beijing, China, 20th September 2016—A rapid survey of physical and online markets has found widespread evidence of ongoing illegal trade in pangolin scales but an apparently reduced market for pangolin meat in China.

The researchers found 74 animal medicine wholesalers and 67 TCM retail outlets offering pangolin scales, 13 collectibles shops selling pangolin scale carvings but only two restaurants selling pangolin meat. Their findings were published today in An overview of pangolin trade in China (PDF, 3.5 MB).

Under Chinese legislation introduced in 2007, none of these establishments are able to source pangolin scales legally as the authorities only permit scales from verified stockpiles or from legal African imports to be used in around 700 licensed hospitals and patented medicinal remedies. Nevertheless, 18% of TCM retail outlets with scales for sale said they had bought them from pharmaceutical companies.

Compared to TRAFFIC surveys carried out in December 2006 to January 2007, the percentage of TCM retail outlets selling pangolin scales had decreased from 81.5% in 2006/2007 to 61.8% in 2016 although the percentage of stalls in TCM wholesale markets had increased from 12.5% in 2006/2007 to 34.9% in 2016.

All eight species of pangolin (four each in Africa and Asia) are considered threatened by IUCN because of decreasing populations and all are currently listed in Appendix II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to regulate their international commercial trade with a zero quota in place for the Asian species. The native Chinese Pangolin is protected as a national second-class protected species under China’s Wild Animal Protection Law, which prohibits trade in its meat.

Despite the trade restrictions, more than a million pangolins are believed to have been poached and illegally traded globally over the past decade to satisfy demand from consumers in Asia, particularly in China.

“Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world and this is having a devastating impact on populations across Africa and Asia. Existing laws are clearly failing to protect pangolins from the poachers: a complete international trade ban is needed now.,” said Heather Sohl, Chief Adviser of Wildlife, of WWF-UK.

The latest findings of ongoing illegal trade were revealed just days ahead of the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES, which begins on 24th September in South Africa. Among the proposals to be voted upon by the Parties there is one to list all eight pangolin species in Appendix I of CITES, effectively to prohibit all commercial international trade.

“TRAFFIC supports the up-listing of pangolin species. However, an Appendix I listing is only paper protection unless it is backed up by the imposition of appropriate national legislation in source and destination countries which carry with them meaningful penalties for violations of the trade ban,” said Fei Zhou, Head of TRAFFIC’s China Office.

When asked about the source of the scales, most traders refused to answer or answered evasively claiming those from outside the country came from Southeast Asia, including Myanmar and Viet Nam, or African countries. Scales from domestic sources were said to originate mainly from Guangxi and Yunnan provinces although traders in Guangxi claimed Viet Nam was merely a transit country and most scales were sourced from Pakistan.

A single snapshot survey in June of 39 websites found 94 traders on six websites who had published a total of 153 advertisements for pangolin scales, one for pangolin meat and two for live pangolins.

Meanwhile, an examination of (incomplete) seizure data revealed a total of 208 seizures involving pangolins in the period 2007–2016, rising from an average 11 cases per year in 2007–2011 to more than 30 per year in 2012–2016. Media-reported seizures over the ten year period totaled 2,405 live pangolins, 11,419 dead pangolins and 34,946 kg (19 398kg of them seized in Hong Kong) of scales: the latter the equivalent of around 75,000 pangolins.

“Illegal trade in pangolin scales and meat has already endangered populations in Asia and increasingly threatens the African species, too. We must strengthen protection by adding all species to CITES Appendix I outlawing all international trade, improve enforcement and educate the public to reduce demand,” said Peter Knights Founder and Executive Director of WildAid. “The Chinese government can play a key role in helping supporting international collaborative enforcement efforts in this regard.”

Pangolins have long been viewed as an important source of medicine and food in China, with the scales used in TCM to promote blood circulation, stimulate lactation, disperse swelling and expel pus, while pangolin meat is consumed as a luxury food item, often as a display of social status and hospitality.

Researchers from TRAFFIC visited 209 stalls in eight major traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) markets, 110 TCM shops in 19 cities, 35,220 stalls in 97 collectibles markets (those mostly selling antiques and crafts), 51 restaurants in 12 cities in mainland China and 39 China-based e-commerce websites during June and July 2016. They also analysed pangolin seizure data from mainland China and Hong Kong SAR from 2007–2016.

TRAFFIC’s recent pangolin surveys were supported by WWF UK and WildAid.

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