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The plight of pangolins

This rare and endangered creature is the most trafficked mammal on Earth. Peter Borchert reports on the scale of the issue

Some 18 months ago more than three tonnes of pangolin scales were found in two shipping containers that had arrived in Hong Kong from Africa, via Malaysia. In a report in the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department said that, at the time, it was the biggest haul in the past five years.

I knew that pangolins were being hammered by illegal trade, but the enormity of the situation really struck home as I continued to read further that this consignment of contraband pangolin scales was estimated to have come from as many as 8000 animals and would have fetched some US$2.2 million on the black market in mainland China. Just like that, 8000 living, inoffensive creatures had been illegally removed from the wild for money.

We are used to stories about illegally trafficked ivory and rhino horn — they are always in the news. But we hear relatively little about the thousands of other species of animal and plant heavily plundered around the world. So it might come as a surprise, as it did to me, that pangolins are such major victims in the US$20 billion industry that trade in contraband wildlife has become.

A Temminck’s ground pangolin in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
Nigel J Dennis / Biosphoto / FLPA
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About Travel Africa

Botswana's secret zebra migration • Insider's tips on Cape Town • Madagascar for families • 10 Reasons to visit Mozambique • Wild Zambia • Conquering Mulanje • Sudan uncovered... and much more!