Three pangolin species more endangered than previously believed

New assessments show worsened conservation status of three pangolin species, points to need for greater protection

Humane Society International / Global

Tikki Hywood Trust

WASHINGTON — Three species of pangolin are closer to extinction than ever before, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which revised its Red List of Threatened Species last week. The white-bellied pangolin and giant ground pangolin have moved from vulnerable to endangered, while the Philippine pangolin has moved from endangered to critically endangered, signaling the continuing decline in these species that face increasing threats from poaching and trafficking.

The new assessments list overexploitation as one of the main threats to the species. While countries voted to ban the international trade in all species of pangolins at the 2016 meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, they continue to be targeted in the hundreds of thousands by wildlife traffickers for the Asian market for their meat, which is consumed as a delicacy, and their scales, which are wrongly believed to have medicinal properties.

The trade in pangolin parts is a truly global problem. These remarkable creatures are in danger across both Asia and Africa, with conservation group TRAFFIC estimating that at least 67 countries and territories on six continents have been involved in the pangolin trade, with huge illegal shipments originating in Cameroon, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda. Most are destined for China and Vietnam although the pangolin scale trade exists throughout Asia, including Viet Nam, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. They are killed for bush meat in parts of Africa, and for traditional medicine in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. Europe has become a key transit route for pangolin parts from Africa to Asia, and pangolin parts are also illegally trafficked from Asia to the United States. Earlier this year, Singapore seized a shipment of 14.2 tons of pangolin scales, equivalent to around 36,000 animals, that originated in Nigeria and was headed to Vietnam.

Although the United States is a destination for trafficked pangolin parts and products, only the Temminck’s pangolin is protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In 2015, Humane Society International, the Humane Society of the United States, and other organizations petitioned the federal government to list the other seven species as endangered under the ESA. In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that listing the seven species of pangolins may be warranted, but the agency has since failed to take any additional action.

Last month, the same coalition of organizations filed a notice of intent to sue for the agency’s failure to issue a 12-month finding, the next step toward listing these species.

Adam Peyman, wildlife programs and operations manager for Humane Society International, said:

“The new Red List assessments illustrate the urgent need for action to stop these charming animals from slipping into extinction. Human exploitation for the illegal pangolin meat and scale trade is having a devastating impact on these species, and this is no time for complacency. The trafficking network is global, and so must our response be to save the pangolin. All governments around the world need to take every action possible, and in the United States we believe that if the Temminck’s pangolin is protected under the Endangered Species Act, then the other pangolin species should be, too. The Fish and Wildlife Service must finish the work that it started in 2016 and list all species of pangolins under the ESA, giving them the strictest protections under U.S. law. These gentle and shy animals should not be driven to extinction simply because of government inaction.”

A recent study estimated that between 2000 and 2019, more than 850,000 pangolins were illegally traded, making the species the most trafficked mammal on the planet.

Photos available here.


  • Pangolins are the world’s only scaly mammals and have been referred to as “walking pinecones” due to their unusual appearance.
  • Of the four Asian species of pangolin, the Sunda, the Chinese and the Philippine are now listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, while the Indian pangolin is listed as endangered. Of the four African species, the white-bellied and the giant ground pangolin are listed as endangered, while the Temminck’s and the black-bellied are listed as vulnerable.
  • Between 2004 and 2013, at least 26,000 imports of pangolin products were seized in the United States. A 2015 report by Humane Society International found “medicinal” products containing or likely to contain pangolin parts openly for sale online and at U.S. stores.


Media contact: Wendy Higgins, +44 (0)7989 972 423,

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