Threats to Asian pangolins
The primary threat to pangolins in Asia is poaching and illegal hunting for illicit international trade, predominantly for pangolin meat, which is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam, and for pangolin scales, which are used as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine. This trade takes place despite prohibitions under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) through the establishment of zero export quotas for wild-caught Asian pangolins traded for primarily commercial purposes. Since 2000, it is estimated that up to one million pangolins have been taken from the wild for illegal trade globally.
Poaching is severely depleting populations in Asia. Research suggests pangolins populations in China have been reduced by 94% and evidence suggests pangolins have been locally extirpated in other areas. Until recently little known was known about this illegal trade but research has recently been, and is being conducted, to learn more about its dynamics, impacts and drivers. Yet, it is known that this trade takes place on a huge scale, evidenced by the large number of confiscations of pangolins from black market traders which take place year after year in Asia, many of which contain thousands of animals. Rapid loss and deterioration of habitat places additional pressure on remaining populations, and while it has been suggested that pangolins can adapt to modified habitats providing they are not persecuted, more research is needed to determine this. A lack of research on pangolin ecology and biology and standarsised monitoring methods for pangolins, makes determining the impact of exploitation on populations in a quantitative sense difficult. Low levels of awareness, insufficient political will, and little investment in pangolin conservation to date makes addressing these threats all the more challenging.
Threats to African pangolins
African pangolins are also threatened by intensive hunting and poaching, as well as a developing intercontinental trade. In many parts of Africa pangolin meat is consumed as bush meat and their scales and other body parts are used in traditional African bush medicine known as ‘Muti’ or Juju’. Due to declines in Asian pangolin populations as well as development-related factors in Africa, African pangolins are now being targeted for intercontinental trade to Asian markets. Habitat loss comprises a secondary threat and land management practices such as pesticide use and the installation of electric fences pose an often fatal threat to the ground-dwelling African pangolins.