Over a million pangolins slaughtered in the last decade

All pangolins now threatened with extinction, and two considered Critically Endangered. One of the world’s most bizarre animal groups is now at risk of complete eradication, according to an update of the . Pangolins, which look and behave similarly to (scaly) anteaters yet are unrelated, are being illegally consumed out of existence due to a thriving trade in East Asia. In fact, the new update lists all eight species as threatened by extinction for first time, with two—the Chinese and the Sunda pangolin—now considered Critically Endangered.

The tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) has been upgraded from Near Threatened to Vulnerable by an IUCN Red List update. Photo by: the African Pangolin Working Group (APWG).

“In the 21st Century we really should not be eating species to extinction—there is simply no excuse for allowing this to continue,” said Jonathan Baillie, Conservation Program Director at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and co-chair of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group, which was established in 2012.

“All eight pangolin species are now listed as threatened with extinction, largely because they are being illegally traded to China and Vietnam,” Baillie added.

The Sunda pangolin, is now listed as Critically Endangered.

Found in Africa and Asia, the world’s eight pangolin species represent some 70 million years of unique evolution. In fact, these animals—which are the only mammals to sport proper scales—are so distinct they have their own Order: Pholidota. In addition to their tell-tale scales, pangolins have a long tongue for eating insects, impressive claws for digging into termite mounds, and an odorous anal gland for repealing predators. But, weirdly, pangolins are most closely related to carnivores.

Yet pangolins have for many years been the most-trafficked animal on the fact of the Earth. In fact, the Pangolin Specialist Group hosted by the ZSL estimates that more than a million pangolins have been stolen from the wild in the past ten years alone. In fact, the group estimates that the Sunda pangolin populations has fallen by up to 80 percent over the past 21 years.

Pangolin scales are used in while their meat is increasingly eaten as a mark of status in countries like China and Vietnam. However, like , there is no evidence that pangolin scales have any curative properties. The trade has become so unsustainable that researchers now fear traders are moving from largely-depleted populations in Asia to source pangolins from Africa. The four species in Africa are already threatened by bushmeat hunting for local meat consumption.

Along with the clarion call about pangolins slipping closer to extinction, the Pangolin Specialist Group is also announcing a conservation action plan, dubbed “Scaling up pangolin conservation.”

“A vital first step is for the Chinese and Vietnamese governments to conduct an inventory of their pangolin scale stocks and make this publicly available to prove that wild-caught pangolins are no longer supplying the commercial trade,” said conservationist Dan Challender, a Co-Chair of Pangolin Specialist Group.

Most important, says the group, is reducing demand for this imperiled group.

The Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) is now considered Critically Endangered. Photo by: Tou Feng.
The World’s Pangolin Species

Asian species

Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Endangered (previously Near Threatened)

Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), Endangered (previously Near Threatened)

Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), Critically Endangered (previously Endangered)

Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), Critically Endangered (previously Endangered)

African species

Giant pangolin (Manis gigantea), Vulnerable (previously Least Concern)

Ground pangolin (Manis temminckii), Vulnerable (previously Least Concern)

Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis), Vulnerable (previously Near Threatened)

Long-tailed pangolin (Manis tetradactyla), Vulnerable (previously Least Concern)


The ground pangolin (Manis temminckii) has been moved from Least Concern to Vulnerable. Photo by: APWG.
Pangolin scales for sale. Photo by: Dan Challender.
The Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) is now listed as Endangered. Photo by: Sandip Kumar/Creative Commons 3.0.
Holding a tree pangolin. Photo by: APWG.
Pangolins are being slaughtered en masse for their scales (pictured here) and their meat. Photo by: Dan Challender.
Roasting a pangolin in a fire. Pangolins are eaten as bushmeat in Africa, but the biggest threat is the booming market in China and Vietnam. Photo by: APWG.
Two pangolins (on the left) hang as bushmeat in Africa. Photo by: APWG.

This article was written by Jeremy Hance for Mongabay.com

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