Scaling up: The Rapid Growth in the Industrial Scale Trafficking of Pangolin Scales (2016-2019)

Pangolins have become a highly prized commodity, illegally trapped, killed and trafficked by organised crime networks between Africa and Asia. Analysis of seizure data of smuggled pangolin scales in the last four years shows a significant and rapid increase in the volume being trafficked.

The findings and conclusions from the Wildlife Justice Commission’s Intelligence Development Unit clearly point to organised crime networks operating on an industrial scale, which is rapidly expanding year on year, putting an entire species at risk.

Pangolins do not have a second chance.

Between 2016-2019, an estimated 206.4 tonnes of pangolin scales were intercepted and confiscated from 52 seizures. The Wildlife Justice Commission believes this is only a fraction of the total being trafficked, as it is likely that a significant proportion of smuggling is not detected.

Analysis of the seizure data over the four-year period shows an increase in trafficking at unprecedented levels. Nearly two-thirds of the tonnage seized – 132.1 tonnes – was detected in the last two years (2018-2019). In 2019, the average weight of a single pangolin scale shipment was 6.2 tonnes, compared with 2.2 tonnes three years earlier.

Why is the Wildlife Justice Commission releasing this report?

This report aims to bridge some of the intelligence gaps in the understanding of the architecture of pangolin trafficking, by identifying key trends and dynamics. However, more intelligence is needed to fully map the networks behind the criminal activity and to identify opportunities to meaningfully disrupt and dismantle the trafficking networks.