ZSL at CITES CoP - Pangolins

Pangolins

Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are the most trafficked wild mammals on the planet. More than a million are estimated to have been snatched from the wild in the past decade – for their meat and body parts – and populations of all eight species are estimated to be declining as a result. 

In the lead up to the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP 17), wildlife experts have proposed a suite of actions to safeguard pangolins from extinction.

Pangolin credit Dan Challender

CITES CoP17 represents an opportunity for Parties to address the critical issues of reducing the illegal killing of pangolins, increasing efforts to combat pangolin trafficking and reducing demand for pangolin meat and scales that is driving this trade. 

ZSL will be working to encourage Parties to support initiatives at CITES that put in place robust measures that will help conserve pangolins in Asia and Africa.

Threats to pangolins

Pangolins (Order Pholidota) are the world’s only scaly mammals. Eight species of pangolin are currently recognised; four occur in South, East and Southeast Asia, and four are native to sub-Saharan Africa. 

Pangolins have been regarded as an important source of wild meat throughout history in almost every country in which they occur. Their scales and other body parts are widely used in traditional medicines where they are believed to perform a variety of functions, from warding away evil spirits to treating skin diseases. 

Today, pangolins are increasingly threatened by international trade in their meat and scales, much of which is destined to China and Vietnam where they are eaten as a luxury dish and used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Pangolin scales
Pangolins are illegally traded for their scales and meat

Pangolins and CITES

Pangolins are protected in most countries in which they occur and have been listed on Appendix II of CITES since 1995, which means trade is regulated in order to avoid overexploitation. However, despite these protective measures, trade in the Asian pangolins (particularly the Chinese and Sunda pangolins) has led to severe population declines. 

In 2000, Parties to CITES established a zero export quota for wild-caught Asian pangolins traded for primarily commercial purposes, effectively enacting a proxy trade ban for the Asian pangolin species. Since this time trade has continued, the majority of it now illegal. 

This year, five separate proposals (CoP17 Prop. 8-12) have been submitted to list pangolins on Appendix I of CITES, which would mean that trade in pangolins and their parts is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. If successful, the uplisting should lead to strengthened national legislation, make law enforcement easier and bring increased attention to the species. 

In addition, draft Resolution and Decisions (CoP17 Doc 64) have been submitted concerning priority actions to address illegal trade in pangolins and reporting on the status, trade and conservation of pangolins.

ZSL briefing note on pangolins

PDF icon ZSL Briefing Note - Pangolin.pdf (1.66 MB) (1.66 MB)

White-bellied pangolin (c) Tim Wacher, ZSL

ZSL recommendations to Parties at CoP17

CoP17 Prop. 8 [Bangladesh] and CoP17 Prop 9 [India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and United States of America] Transfer of Indian Pangolin Manis crassicaudata from Appendix II to Appendix I

ZSL recommendation: Support
The Indian pangolin has been assessed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List on the basis of suspected population declines of at least 50 per cent over the past two decades. Researcher report that populations of the species have declined in India and in parts of Pakistan, and it is believed to have disappeared from parts of its range in Bangladesh. The estimated population decline qualifies the species for inclusion in Appendix I in accordance with Annex I of CITES Res. Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16).

CoP17 Prop. 10 [Philippines and United States of America] Transfer of Philippine Pangolin Manis culionensis from Appendix II to Appendix I

ZSL recommendation: Support
The Philippine pangolin has been assessed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List on the basis of suspected population declines of at least 50 per cent over a period of two decades. Although there is a lack of population data on the species, local hunters report that increased effort is now needed to catch pangolins, potentially as a consequence of declining populations. The estimated population decline qualifies the species for inclusion in Appendix I.

CoP17 Prop. 11 [Viet Nam, Bhutan and United States of America] Transfer of Sunda Pangolin Manis javanica and Chinese Pangolin M. pentadactyla from Appendix II to Appendix I

ZSL recommendation: Support
The Chinese and Sunda pangolins are listed as Critically Endangered, on the basis of estimated past, ongoing and predicted population declines of 90 per cent and 80 per cent respectively over a 21 year period. Population declines are driven primarily by overexploitation for illicit international trade, which is fuelled by demand for pangolin meat and other body parts. These population declines qualify both species for inclusion in Appendix I.

CoP17 Prop. 12 [Angola, Botswana, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and United States of America] Transfer of African pangolin species Manis tetradactyla, M. tricuspis, M. gigantea and M. temminckii from Appendix II to Appendix I

ZSL recommendation: Support
Detailed population data on the four African pangolin species (all listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List) are scarce, resulting in insufficient information to determine if these species meet the biological criteria for inclusion in Appendix I. However, the volume of African pangolins being trafficked to Asia appears to have substantially increased in recent years. Between 2013 and 2016, scales from more than 16,000 African pangolins were seized in East Asia, a significant increase on previous years. Anecdotal evidence from Central and West Africa, in particular, indicates pangolins are being increasingly sought after, prices being paid for their meat and scales are increasing, and populations are declining as a result. Due to the increasing threats to African pangolins, and the difficulty in distinguishing between scales of African and Asian pangolins, ZSL recommends applying the precautionary principle and including all African pangolins in Appendix I.

CoP17 Doc 64 Draft Resolution and Decision concerning priority actions to address illegal trade in pangolins and reporting on the status, trade and conservation of pangolins
The draft Resolution urges Parties, governments, intergovernmental organizations, international aid agencies and non-governmental organizations to implement and/or support a suite of actions to combat the illegal trade in pangolins and pangolin products. The draft Decision requests that the Secretariat: i) liaise with relevant enforcement networks to convey concerns expressed about the illegal trade in pangolins, including parts and derivatives; and ii) subject to external funding, produce a report on status, trade and conservation of pangolins in co-operation with relevant organisations, and in consultation with range and implicated States.

ZSL recommendation: Support
As a member of the CITES inter-sessional working group on pangolins, ZSL contributed to the development of the draft Resolution and Decision, and fully supports the recommended actions.