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Buying pangolin wine, meds online? Study says you’re driving most trafficked mammal to extinction

Exploitation of loopholes in international law has led to an exponential surge in the illegal trade of pangolin-derived products, says study by Geneva-based NGO.

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New Delhi: Pangolins, the world’s most trafficked mammals, are being “driven to the brink of extinction” by a booming illegal online trade that encompasses Asia, Africa, Europe and the US, according to a study by the Geneva-based NGO Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The study highlights how exploitation of loopholes in international law has led to an exponential surge in the illegal trade of pangolin-derived products via online platforms. Customers, the study says, are oblivious to the fact that products up for sale, including Chinese medicine, wine and incense, are derived from the scales and meat of pangolins.

Commercial and international trade of pangolins captured from their natural habitat, and pangolin parts, was deemed illegal by the 184-member Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2017. 

According to the study, published in July 2022, the Indian pangolin falls in the ‘endangered’ category on IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of threatened species, while the Chinese pangolin and the Sunda pangolin fall in the ‘critically endangered’ category.

One of the authors, Théo Clément, held a virtual discussion Wednesday to analyse the findings of the study.

The pangolin is an insect-eating mammal that resembles an anteater or an armadillo. When approached by predators, they “immediately curl into a tight ball and will use their sharp-scaled tails to defend themselves”.

For decades, pangolins have been a source of food and medicine for people in Africa and Asia, especially in China. However, the demand for their scales — traditionally used for medicinal purposes in Vietnam and China — has grown significantly across the globe in recent years. 

Also Read: India’s illegal pangolin trade is now on YouTube. And there are hundreds of subscribers

Authors analysed 924 online ads

In order to detect patterns of illegal online trade, the authors of the study monitored 924 online advertisements in English and Mandarin for Pangolin-derived products. They found that English websites were more likely to conceal the use of Pangolin scales in their products.

Posted between April 2021 and October 2021, 873 of those advertisements used simplified Chinese, while 51 were in English and targeted customers outside China. Of the 924 advertisements analysed by the researchers, 881 originated in mainland China, 16 in the US, and eight in Hong Kong.

Highlighting a clear violation of the 2017 CITES order, the study found that websites selling Pangolin-derived products in English even offer to ship the products globally.

“Consumers could often be in a position where they would be unable to make informed decisions when purchasing pangolin-derived products, may potentially be led by ‘agent’ websites to consume remedies containing pangolin scales, and/ or could easily import these remedies from abroad,” the study said.

It also found that most websites fail to mention the origins of the pangolin scales used in the products being offered to customers.

Medicinal products most advertised

Medicinal products were the most commonly marketed pangolin-derived products available online and accounted for 870 of the 924 advertisements analysed as part of the study.

Of the pangolin-derived medical products, pills, capsules and tablets were the most commonly advertised, followed by medicinal creams, ointments, powdersm and plasters.

Medicinal wine produced using pangolin-derived products was the second most marketed product online with 25 advertisements, followed by raw scales with 12 advertisements and incense with four advertisements.

“Although pangolins are poached for different reasons, depending on the local context and prevailing consumption patterns, evidence indicates that the majority of international trafficking in pangolins in the past five years has involved African pangolins,” the study found.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Weeks after ‘smuggling’ attempt foiled, 4 more kangaroos found in Bengal — 3 injured, one dead


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