New research details complexity of growing risks to endangered pangolins

Pangolin scales seized in Nigeria. Photo credit: © Charles A. Emogor

A food delicacy in some African and Asian countries, the pangolin is also prized for its scales, which are used in folk and traditional remedies to treat various ailments.

Although pangolins are protected by international law under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), estimates indicate that more than one million pangolins have made the illegally trafficked around the world since 2013.

Research recently published in the journal Biological preservation reveals that Nigeria has become a central intercontinental hub through which the scales of an estimated 799,300 pangolins were shipped en route to Asia between 2010 and September 2020.

Although Nigeria is a party to CITES and has other national legislation designed to prevent illegal trade in endangered species, the country has been involved in more reported pangolin trafficking incidents than any other African country.

The illegal wildlife trade diminishes animal populations, threatens the food security and livelihoods of local communities, endangers public health through the spread of zoonotic diseases, and undermines the rule of law through organized criminal networks and institutional corruption, said Daniel Ingram, postdoctoral researcher at Britain’s University of Stirling, member of the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group and author of the paper.

Of the eight pangolin species, four are found in Africa and four in Asia. All are listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

“By examining the patterns of pangolin trafficking in Nigeria, policies can be developed to strengthen law enforcement to protect wildlife species threatened by transnational trade,” Ingram said, adding that the illegal trade in pangolins in Nigeria during the study period involved 21 other countries, including nine in Africa, nine in Asia and three in Europe.

The team of researchers – also from the University of Cambridge, the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), the University of Oxford and the Nigerian program of the Wildlife Conservation Society – has analyzed three types of data, including pangolin seizure records and interview results. , to reach their conclusions.

They observed that Nigeria’s law enforcement efforts to combat pangolin trafficking increased from 2017.

“Our study demonstrates the complexity of the illegal global trade in pangolins and amplifies the need for concerted conservation efforts and stronger law enforcement, supported by inspection equipment, inspection officers and sniffer dogs. at seaports and at borders,” Ingram said.

“Travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic likely reduced traffic in 2020, but business has already resumed.”

Two live tree pangolins. Photo credit: © Franklin T. Simo


In addition to the demand for scales from Asia, in parts of West and Central Africa pangolin meat is still eaten as part of the rural subsistence diet.

They can also be found in urban bushmeat markets in Cameroon (and elsewhere in the region) where they are eaten as a luxury, although they are illegal in many cases, said Ingram, lead author of a new research paper published in the African Journal of Ecology and released to coincide with World Pangolin Day on Saturday.

The three species of pangolin found in Cameroon were available on the market. Most were white-bellied tree pangolins (Phataginus tricuspis), but pieces of the endangered giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) were also found, according to the research, which was a collaboration between researchers from the universities of Stirling, Yaoundé I in Cameroon, St. Andrews in the UK and Aalborg in Denmark, the Zoological Society of London – Cameroon and the Central Africa Bushmeat Action Group.

By monitoring the pangolin trade, the authors observed a decline in the average daily number of tree pangolins available in 2017 compared to 2020.

Despite this, in surveys conducted over a six-month period in 2020 – at the height of COVID-19 shutdowns globally – tree pangolins were continuously available throughout the survey period, and most pangolins were alive.

Despite COVID-19 and national bans prohibiting trade in pangolins, they were still regularly and openly offered for sale in the capital, Ingram said.


Pangolins are used in some traditional medicine and ritual practices in West Africa, including Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, but little is known about how pangolins are traditionally used in other African countries. West Africa.

In a second article published in the African Journal of Ecology On World Pangolin Day, Ingram is sharing findings gathered from a wide range of sources, including historical reports, legal documents, and interviews with wildlife experts and traditional hunters in Mali.

Pangolins are available in the fetish market in the country’s capital, Bamako – where wild animal body parts are bought for traditional medicine and ritual practices – at least in 2008.

The authors suggest that further research is needed to understand if these practices still occur.

“Pangolins also figured in Malian ritual arts, where they are depicted in the tywara southern region headdresses dating to around 1980, suggesting some level of cultural significance,” Ingram said.

“Evidence from multiple sources suggests that at least two pangolin species may occur in the far south of Mali, currently not listed on the IUCN Red List.”

The research was conducted by researchers affiliated with the universities of Stirling, Linfield, Southern New Hampshire in the United States and the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes in France.

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Sharon D. Cole