Which do you think is the most trafficked animal in the world? Despite the craze for elephant tusk, leopard skin, and snake leather, the numbers in which Pangolians are being trafficked through international borders are pushing these little creatures on the verge of extinction. Researchers are worried that we are running out of time, and only strict actions today can save the enigmatic and imperiled Pangolians from vanishing from the face of the earth.

But what has triggered the trafficking of Pangolians which led the mammal to the brink of extinction? And what measures must be taken to prevent this harmless miniature dinosaur from disappearing?

Pangolin Trafficking: Demand and Crime

Countries like China and Vietnam are the epicenter of Pangolin demands mainly for their scales. Pangolians’ scale has a great significance and curing capability in traditional Chinese medicine. But trafficking is not only limited to the scales; Panglonia meat is also regarded as a luxury delicacy in Vietnam and China.

Over the last decade, more than one million Pangolins have been trafficked. Approximately 228 tones of Pangolin scales were confiscated between the years 2016 and 2019, where two-third of the entire seizer took place in the period of 2018-19. Furthermore, in an intelligence-led operation, 2020, Environmental Management Inspectorate, along with the police, rescued 38 dehydrates, starving, and sickly Pangolins from illegal traffickers.

The US departments of homeland security’s criminal investigation specialist, Devhandran Pillay, retrieved trafficked Pangolins and arrested 28 traffickers in the seizure, including international buyers and receivers. He said, “The department was requested to assist with digital forensic analysis on the cellphones of the four suspects. This was done, and the four were linked in the commission of the crime.”

Significance of Pangolin Trafficking

Source:  Mail & Guardian

Pangolins, the most trafficked non-human mammal in the world, have lived on the earth for more than 84-million years, giving them the name ‘artichokes with legs‘ or miniature dinosaurs. A pangolin’s scale is composed of keratin, just like a human’s fingernail. Yet, despite extensive trafficking from Africa to Asia, the elusive scaly mammals were rarely in the extinction animal discussion until a few years back.

According to Wildlife Justice Commission, Pangolins made the headline only after the global Covid-19 outbreak, under the spotlight of speculation of correlation between the coronavirus and pangolin trafficking. The commission highlighted the increasing demand for Pangolin scale and meat from Asia, as ever investigation discovers staggering quantities of Pangolin scales. The Chinese government protects pangolins at the highest level. They are no longer on the list of approved ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine, but there still remain problem areas.

Pangolin Trafficking: An Organized Crime

Pangolin scales in bags. Photo: Orji Sunday
Seized Pangolin Scale at Oluwa Market

Pangolin has been hunted and sold for the purpose of food, openly in the bush market of many African countries. Still, the high demand for these mammals from Asia has given rise to organized crime syndicates with networks across borders. The significant and often overlooked cause of trafficking is joblessness and poverty. Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, and Namibia home most Pangolin traffickers, places where job opportunities are scarce. The high-value market of Pangolin trafficking lures the traffickers into organized crime, but at the end of the day, they are hunting not to make a fortune but just to put food on the plate.

As Pangolins are becoming rare, their demand in hiking off the roof, which have made Pangolin trafficking an organized crime, including the poor hunters in Africa who hunt and sell each Pangolin for as little as $10, to the overseas illicit trading market where the price can get up to a grand or two. Thus, just like drugs, the illegal trading of Pangolin has shot up the cost of the rarest species of scaly anteater.

How to Tackle the International Crime Against Pangolians?

Launched in 2019, the Pangolin Crisis Fund was created to save the species of Pangolin from getting extinct due to the illicit trading of its meat, scales, and other body parts. Currently working against illegal trafficking of Pangolin’s over the border, PCF is operating in Asia, the largest buyer, and Africa, the largest supplier.

The only way to tackle the global underground trafficking of Pangolins is through international approaches because, despite numerous laws and restrictions, Pangolins are trafficked across borders with ease. The strategies to deal with and halt such trafficking should be flexible enough to match the trade’s nature because no single country can globally impact the illicit trade.

People have to know more about Pangolin and its significance on a global scale. Scaling up the awareness about Pangolin amongst the poverty-stricken traffickers can help protect further exploitation of these endangered animals.