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TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 28 No. 1 (2016) 3
Occurring exclusively in Africa
and Asia, pangolins are among
the most heavily illegally traded
mammals in the world. Popular
for their meat and for the
purported medicinal qualities of their scales
(Challender and Hywood, 2012; Boakye et
al., 2015; Shepherd et al., 2016), they are a
much sought-after commodity, both locally
and internationally, despite the protective
measures that are in place in most countries in
which they occur. With China and Viet Nam
the key consumers of pangolin derivatives,
international trade has historically conned
itself to the Asian continent. However, recent
seizures data suggest that the trafcking of
African pangolin species to meet Asian demand
is on the rise. Their mounting occurrence
on the international market is alarming and
has been attributed to a drastic decline in the
four Asian species and increasing economic
ties between East Asia and African countries
(Challender and Hywood, 2012; Challender,
2015; Nijman et al., 2015; Shepherd et al.,
2016). While it has long been suspected that
inter-continental pangolin trade occurs, and
the possibility of such a trade was raised in
Bräutigam et al. (1994), there has been little
study of its scope and scale. Challender and
Hywood (2012) rst shed light on the potential
threats such trade may pose to African
pangolins based on an analysis of seizures
data of the four species between 2000 and
2012. Since then, the number of incidents has
not increased in a noteworthy way (in fact the
number of seizures may seem low to the casual
observer). However, this observation may be
misleading, for the quantities of seized goods
have risen tremendously. Between 2000 and
2012, the weight of scales seized in a single
incident ranged from one kilogramme to ca.
200 kg (Challender and Hywood, 2012). These
numbers now commonly range from 250 kg
to 2000 kg. This short note aims to provide a
concise overview of these worrying ndings
in respect of Nigeria, and to highlight the
importance of further research into the shifting
trends in the international pangolin trade.
Case Study: Nigeria to Asia
The recent spate of inter-continental pangolin
trade originating from Nigeria warranted closer
scrutiny of the country’s potential role as an
important African export hub. Seizures data of
pangolin shipments originating in Nigeria were
collected and analysed for the period 2011 to
2015. These data were obtained from media
reports and the TRAFFIC database. Nine
Fig. 1. Trade routes of pangolin shipments from Nigeria to
Asia, and volumes, 2012.
Fig. 3. Trade routes of pangolin shipments from Nigeria to
Asia, and volumes, 2015.
Fig. 2. Trade routes of pangolin shipments from Nigeria to
Asia, and volumes, 2014.
The trade of African pangolins to Asia:
a brief case study of pangolin shipments from Nigeria
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4 TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 28 No. 1 (2016)
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Date Location Destination Items seized Quantity (kg) Source
15 May 2012 China China Scales/meat* 1230/3000 Anon, 2012a
7 December 2012 China China Scales 50 Anon, 2012b
2 July 2014 France Lao PDR Scales 250 Anon, 2014
16 January 2015 China China Scales 2000 Anon, 2015a
17 March 2015 Hong Kong Hong Kong Scales 2000 Anon, 2015b
27 March 2015 China China Scales 249 Anon, 2015c
7 April 2015 China China Scales 25 Anon, 2015c
10 December 2015 Thailand Lao PDR Scales* 587 Anon, 2015d
12 December 2015 Singapore Lao PDR Scales* 324 Heng, 2015
Table 1. Seizure records of pangolin shipments originating from Nigeria, 2011–2015.
*seized shipments that also contained elephant ivory
records of seizures of pangolin shipments originating in
Nigeria were found (Table 1).
Two seizures took place in 2012, one of which was
exceptionally large (involving 3000 kg of pangolin meat,
1230 kg of scales and 225 kg of ivory) (Fig. 1). Another
large seizure of 250 kg of scales took place in 2014
(Fig. 2). However, the majority of seizures occurred in
2015, with six incidents totalling no less than 5185 kg of
scales (Fig. 3), suggesting that the pangolin trade from
Nigeria is substantive. No seizure records were found
for 2011 and 2013 (although it should be noted that in
Challender and Hywood (2012) there is one record of a
2011 seizure in China involving scales and meat from
Nigeria). In all incidents, pangolin scales were the main
item seized, with the exception of the aforementioned
2012 seizure in which a large amount of pangolin meat
was also seized. Interestingly, this seizure included ivory.
In two other cases, pangolin derivatives were shipped
along with large quantities of elephant ivory. These
incidents took place in December 2012 in Singapore and
Thailand, where Lao PDR-bound pangolin shipments
were found to include a total of 563 elephant tusks.
No pre-2012 records of mixed shipments coming from
Africa were found in the database (post-2012 data
include reports of mixed shipments from other African
countries as well, most notably in 2015 a large Ugandan
seizure of 2000 kg of scales and 700 kg of ivory destined
for Europe took place), implying such shipments have
either not previously occurred, or have gone undetected.
The seizures that took place during the study period
occurred in China (ve recorded incidents), France
(one recorded incident, although it must be noted that
many more African pangolin shipments, originating in
different countries, have been seized in France over the
years), Hong Kong (one recorded incident), Thailand
(one recorded incident) and Singapore (one recorded
incident), with China, Hong Kong and Lao PDR being
the designated destinations. In all but one case (a 2015
Shanghai seizure involving 25 kg of scales), the quantity
of seized pangolin derivatives was very large, ranging
from between 250 kg and 4230 kg. In most cases, the
pangolin parts were shipped by air, either in passengers’
luggage or freight. The one exception was a shipment
by sea that was seized in Hong Kong in March 2015
involving 2000 kg of scales.
The recorded incidents are worrying. While it is still
uncertain whether Nigeria functions as a source or a
transit country in the inter-continental pangolin trade, it
is clear that Asian demand has become a serious threat to
the survival of African pangolin species, and that Nigeria
is a signicant part of the illegal trade chain.
All four African pangolin species (Black-bellied Pangolin
Phataginus tetradactyla, White-bellied Pangolin P. tricuspis,
Gant Pangolin Smutsia gigantea and Temminck’s Ground
Pangolin S. temminckii) are currently classied as
Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
(Pietersen et al., 2014; Waterman et al., 2014a; Waterman
et al., 2014b; Waterman et al., 2014c). International trade
in pangolins is likely to be having a detrimental effect
on population levels, although such pressure remains
unquantied due to the paucity of research carried out on
pangolins, and the lack of published information. Further
investigation into the source, scale and extent of trade
ows of African pangolins to Asia is desperately needed
if we are to clamp down on this illicit trade, inform future
policy decisions, and identify priority actions to aid in
their conservation. Further research is also needed on
the apparently novel occurrence of mixed shipments of
pangolin and ivory. This brief case study also highlights
the need to establish more effective protection measures
for African pangolin species. All species of pangolin are
listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES), such that all international trade is regulated
through the issuance of export permits. While a zero
export quota has been established for the four Asian
pangolin species, their African counterparts are subject
to no such quota. This is particularly worrying in light
of the uncertainty concerning current population sizes
of all four African species (Souwu and Ayodele, 2009;
Pietersen et al., 2014; Boakye et al., 2015). Moreover, it
is highly debateable whether the establishment of a zero
quota should be considered an effective conservation
tool in the rst place, seeing how it has not been able to
put a halt to the trade in the Asian species (Challender
et al., 2015). Transferral of all eight pangolin species
from CITES Appendix II to CITES Appendix I should
therefore be seriously considered.
N E W S
TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 28 No. 1 (2016) 5
The authors would like to thank Dan Challender for his
helpful review of this paper; they would also like to thank
an anonymous donor for generously funding their work
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Lalita Gomez, Programme Ofcer, TRAFFIC
Boyd T.C. Leupen, Consultant
Tiau Kiu Hwa, Data-entry and Research Ofcer, TRAFFIC
A group of White-bellied Pangolins Phataginus tricuspis
(adult male and female encircling a juvenile pangolin),
DUROJAYE A SOEWU (PH.D)