New Delhi: On the eve of World Pangolin Day 2018, TRAFFIC revealed that at least 5,772 pangolins were found in illegal wildlife trade in India during the period 2009–2017; close to 650 pangolins every year since 2009. However, this is a conservative estimate and as only a fraction of illegal wildlife trade is detected, the actual number is likely to be far higher.
Pangolins, considered the most trafficked mammal species globally, are targeted mainly for their meat, and scales. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and as a “tonic food” because of its unproven yet alleged medicinal properties. Pangolin scales are used as an ingredient in traditional medicines as they are believed to cure various ailments. Most of the poaching and smuggling are believed to be targeted to international markets in China and Southeast Asia.
TRAFFIC’s latest study recorded 90 cases of pangolin seizures in India during the nine-year study period, of which the majority (83) were of pangolin scales, clearly indicating that scales are the main pangolin product trafficked in the country. Manipur and Tamil Nadu emerged as the hotspots for pangolin smuggling, where the majority of seizures took place. A fact sheet and images can be found here: https://d2391rlyg4hwoh.cloudfront.net/downloads/factsheet__scale_of_pangolin_trade_in_india___2009_2017.pdf
Between 2009 to 2013, most of the 46 seizures were in eastern or north-eastern parts of India, including Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, and West Bengal, while between 2014–2017, the majority of 44 seizures were from southern and central parts of India including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu. This could indicate a regional shift in the poaching and smuggling of pangolins in India.
Hunting and trade in both the pangolin species—Indian Pangolin Manis crassicaudata and the Chinese Pangolin Manis pentadactyla—found in India is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 while international trade is prohibited under CITES (Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The Indian Pangolin is found across almost all of the country while the distribution of the Chinese Pangolin in India is restricted to the north-east.
Dr. Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC’s India office said, “The number of pangolins in illegal wildlife trade in India is of concern and without proper population estimates, the impact of such trade is unclear and could pose a significant threat to the species. There is no better time than World Pangolin Day to take urgent action for pangolins: enforcement agencies should redouble their efforts to curtail poaching and illegal trade in pangolins through improved inter agency co-operation and co-ordination, and collaborate with their colleagues in transit and destination market countries to secure an international crackdown on the criminal elements orchestrating wildlife trafficking.”
Mr Ravi Singh, SG & CEO, WWF-India further adds, “The large number of pangolins in illegal wildlife trade is alarming, as a population decline of pangolins could lead to serious ecological imbalance. Pangolins often called scaly anteaters are considered farmer’s friends as they help to keep a check on populations of ants and termites and help improve soil quality. Therefore, is it important that efforts are directed to stop poaching and smuggling of pangolins in India. More efforts to understand their status are necessary, simultaneously to plan future strategies for conservation of pangolins in the wild”.
World Pangolin Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in February every year, with the seventh such day being marked on 17 February 2018. World Pangolin Day is an opportunity for pangolin enthusiasts to join together in raising awareness about these unique mammals.