By Sharon Atieno

In order to fuel the demand for their meat and scales for use in traditional Asian medicine, pangolins remain to be the most trafficked mammal in the world. This is despite lack of scientific proof that their body parts have medicinal value.

A report dubbed: Suffering at scale- pangolin poaching for the traditional medicine trade reveals that about a million plus pangolins have been killed in the last decade alone and traded primarily for traditional medicine. Between 2010 and 2015 there were 1270 pangolin seizures in 67 countries and territories across the world. This involved 120 tons of body parts, whole animals, plus an additional 46,000 individual carcasses.

A pangolin in captivity
Photo credits: World Animal Protection

The situation is so dire, that all the eight species of pangolins- four Asian and four African- have been enlisted in Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix 1 which includes other threatened species like the African grey parrots, Asian elephants and tigers. This forbids all commercial trade of the species.

The report by World Animal Protection (WAP) further notes that the species go through unimaginable suffering while being hunted and slaughtered.

“They can be smoked and dragged out of their trees and burrows, bludgeoned with clubs and machetes, and then boiled-sometimes alive, for their scales. The process of digging out can last for many hours exacerbating the animals’ extreme stress and terror,” the report reads.

A pangolin being boiled alive
Photo credits: World Animal Protection

In a statement to commemorate the World Pangolin Day marked on 20th February, WAP called for a strong enforcement of national and international laws to protect pangolins, investment in and promotion of herbal and synthetic medicine, combined and coordinated efforts by all stakeholders including traditional Asian Medicine practitioner particularly in China and Vietnam, support for alternative livelihoods and education within communities where pangolins exist, and removal of pangolins from the definitive traditional medicine handbook for everyone working in the industry.

Pangolins are vulnerable to over exploitation due to their low reproductive output, giving birth to one or two offspring annually, and have a generation length of between seven and nine years depending on the species. Their ability to quickly roll into a tight ball when under threat also makes them more vulnerable to poachers.