Pangolins are the world’s most heavily-trafficked wild mammals

Pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, are reclusive and nocturnal animals that roll up into a ball when threatened. They are seldom seen in the wild, and are very hard to raise in captivity. Yet, pangolins have become the most heavily trafficked wild mammal in the world. Up to 200,000 are estimated to be taken from the wild every year across Africa and Asia. Their meat is considered a delicacy by some in China and Vietnam, while their scales and fetuses are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a range of ailments from arthritis to cancer. Pangolins are also used throughout Africa in traditional medicine.


Situation Worsens Despite Protections

In early 2017, all eight pangolin species gained full protection from cross-border commercial trade under international law. However, illegal trade has continued, and in 2019 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared that the status of three of the eight pangolin species has worsened in its update to the Red List of Threatened Species: Two African pangolin species, the white-bellied and the giant ground pangolin, moved from the “Vulnerable” to “Endangered” category alongside the Indian pangolin, while the Philippine pangolin moved from “Endangered” to “Critically Endangered,” joining the Sunda and Chinese pangolins.

  • 200,000
    Each year, up to 200,000 pangolins are poached from the wild.
  • 300+
    WildAid and our partners have trained more than 300 law enforcement specialists to interdict pangolin shipments.
  • 8
    There are 8 species of pangolins, 4 are found in Africa and 4 in Asia, all are under threat and all are now protected from international trade.

Making an impact

WildAid has been on the front lines of the fight for pangolins, launching its public awareness campaign in 2016, which aims to eliminate demand for pangolins in the world’s two largest markets – China and Vietnam – through behavior change campaigns designed to educate consumers and make consumption of pangolin products socially unacceptable. Enlisting the power and reach of legendary ambassadors like Jackie Chan and China’s superstar Angelababy, and working closely with government and media partners, we have reached some 800 million viewers in these countries with our messaging across dozens of TV networks and on over 160,000 video screens in subways, airports, bus stops, hospitals and shopping centers. 

A 2015 WildAid survey found that 70% of respondents in China believed pangolin scales had medicinal value. Eighteen months after launching our campaign, this figure had dropped 28.5% (in 2017, 50% believed in the medicinal value of scales), demonstrating the impact of our messaging on people’s perceptions of pangolins. Still, the number of respondents admitting to having purchased pangolin products continued to hover around 9% in 2017, indicating there is still demand for the products, and more work to be done. 

In addition to our communications campaign, we have convened pangolin experts, academics and traditional medicine practitioners to align efforts aimed at ending the medicinal use of scales. We’ve also worked to improve enforcement capacity, working with our partners in China and Vietnam to train over 350 enforcement authorities on understanding the illegal trade, how to quickly identify illegal pangolin products, and how to handle confiscated animals. These training sessions have helped produce record breaking seizures in 2019. In October, the anti-smuggling bureau of Hangzhou Customs and the public security department in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, announced they had seized over 25 tonnes of smuggled pangolin scales and detained 18 suspects, just six months after a WildAid-sponsored training in Zhejiang.