The trafficking of pangolins in Vietnam was first brought to my attention after watching a documentary about it on netflix (The Traffickers, episode 2). Not too long after I went to Cuc Phuong National Park and visited the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Centre and saw some of these unusual creatures.
I thought that it was strange that I’d never even heard of the pangolin before, much less that it was trafficked so heavily. So I decided to look more into it, and hopefully shed a little light on the current situation.
What are pangolins?
Around the world, there are eight species of Pangolin, two of which are found in Vietnam: the Sunda Pangolin and the Chinese Pangolin. They are small mammals about the size of a house cat, and are covered in protective scales. They have a long sticky tongue and look similar to anteaters. When they are scared, they roll themselves into a protective ball, which protects them in the wild, but unfortunately makes them easy targets for hunters.
Pangolins account for 20% of all illegal wildlife trade. Allegedly the most trafficked mammal in the world, all species of pangolin are critically endangered. In Vietnam there has been an estimated 80% decline over the past twenty years, and it’s possible Chinese Pangolins are now completely extinct in some areas of Vietnam.
What are they used for?
In Vietnam pangolins are consumed as speciality dishes in restaurants and in traditional medicine. Their scales are boiled off for medicine and their blood is used as a healing tonic. Their scales are even used for making jewellery and guitar plectrums. The pangolin is believed to have a range of medical benefits, from treating psoriasis to working as an aphrodisiac, from aiding breastfeeding to preventing menstrual cramps, and even to preventing cancer.
Who buys them?
Pangolins can be sold for as much as $1000 per animal, or $150 per pound. Hence, the wealthy middle class eager to show off their wealth are interested in these animals as a luxury delicacy. They are advertised and sold in restaurants in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In one restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City the manager even takes the live pangolin and slices it’s throat at the table to prove it’s fresh.
The Law in Vietnam
Both species of Pangolin native to Vietnam are protected under Vietnam’s wildlife protection laws, as well as being banned from commercial trade under international treaty. This makes it illegal to hunt, trap, keep, kill, transport, sell or advertise pangolins in Vietnam.
For example, in one instance pangolins rescued in Bac Ninh province were sent to forest rangers. Instead of releasing the pangolins, they proceeded to sell the animals to local restaurants for $12,000.
What is being done about it?
Pangolins don’t survive well in captivity, as breeding programmes have had little success and a number of the animals have died. Therefore it is crucial to release pangolins back into the wild as soon as possible. Save Vietnam’s Wildlife is fitting animals with tracking devices to track their movement, which will help them identify the safest place to release them.
World Pangolin Day has also been introduced to raise awareness of the issue, as pangolin trafficking is still widely unheard about.
At the beginning of this year Vietnam also increased it’s maximum prison sentence for wildlife trafficking from seven to fifteen years. As the plight of the pangolin is slowly being brought to media attention, I hope that soon pangolin trafficking will be taken more seriously.
What can you do to help?
First things first, don’t consume or support the consumption of any pangolins. But I doubt, and hope, that anyone reading this is! Raising awareness of this issue is important. Sadly, pangolins don’t receive as much media attention as other endangered animals such as elephants and rhinos.
Save Vietnam’s Wildlife is an amazing organisation and leading in their field. I saw their incredible work firsthand at Cuc Phuong National Park. You can take action by donating, or volunteering directly with them.
Of course it’s not only Vietnam, or Asia, that traffics pangolins. For example, pangolin trafficking is also a problem in Africa. This is just one side of the story, and something I’m particularly passionate about because I live in Vietnam. I also understand that hunters are often just trying to get by and feed their family. However, from my experience living in Vietnam, people don’t seem to care about animals or their welfare too much.
The consumption of exotic animals is not only cruel but irresponsible and unsustainable and needs to stop. Pangolins will soon become extinct before people have even heard about them, if their trafficking continues at the current rate.
Sources and further reading