Illegal South African pangolin trade on the rise

More than 100 000 pangolins are smuggled illegally out of Asia and Africa each year, with criminal syndicates turning to South Africa’s weak borders as easy exit and entry points.

The pangolin – which is the most smuggled mammal in the world according to a report by NGO WildAid – has fallen victim to crime syndicates and illegal smugglers for the past decade, with law enforcement seizures rising from 21kg in 2011 to 68 000kg in 2019.

In the East, pangolin meat is revered as delicacy while their scales are used for traditional medicine.

Richard Chelin, researcher at the ENACT organized crime program at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), says the South African government must act drastically to save what is already a critically endangered species.

“We have to act now.

“It is vital that we understand and prevent the illicit trade in pangolins before it is too late. The threat to the rhino shows that early interventions are better than reactive measures at the height of a crisis.”

The decline in Asian pangolins has now seen organized criminal networks turn their attention to the African species, with pangolin sales financing other smuggling operations such as human trafficking, guns and drugs.

Efforts to combat the illegal trade of pangolins in South Africa seen convicted poachers receiving fines ranging from just R1 500 – R2 000 and prison sentences between 18 – 24 months.

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