Exclusive excerpt: 'Trafficked to Extinction'

Our global report on the illicit trade in pangolins will publish on Sept 25

Dear friends and supporters,

Thank you so much for your interest in The Pangolin Reports, the work of a nine-month investigation by more than 30 journalists in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Criminal syndicates in Africa and Asia are working together — and competing — to meet the seemingly insatiable demand for pangolins in China and other markets.

We set out to document how this underground trade risks wiping out the species.

Our report “Trafficked to Extinction” will publish on Wednesday, Sept. 25, in time for the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Hamburg, Germany. We’d like to thank you for expressing interest in our work by sending you an advance excerpt from our report. On Wednesday, we’ll send you a link to the full report, again, a bit ahead of everyone else.

You’ll then get from us a chapter on the trade every few days. We will also send you new reporting on the trade as some of us are still in the field talking to poachers, traders, and consumers.

If you have questions or comments, do not hesitate to get in touch by responding to this email.


Patrick Boehler
Managing Editor, The Global Environmental Reporting Collective

Pangolins: The multimillion-dollar mammal

The world’s most trafficked mammal is a solitary anteater resembling an artichoke: the pangolin. Prized for its scales, particularly for traditional medicine in China, this quiet animal is at the centre of a sophisticated, multi-million-dollar supply chain across Africa and Asia, run by networks of criminal syndicates.

The Global Environmental Reporting Collective, formed in early 2019, chose the pangolin trade as its first focus for in-depth investigation. More than 30 journalists from 14 newsrooms reported in Africa and Asia, conducting dozens of exclusive interviews and even going undercover. The results are being published on Wednesday as The Pangolin Reports.

“Roughly 50 tons of illegal African pangolin scales have been seized globally in the last four months,” estimated Peter Knights, the CEO of WildAid, an advocacy group. “In shipments that contain both pangolins and ivory, pangolin scales have now surpassed the volume of ivory.”

High demand has made the pangolin the most illegally traded mammal in the world, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). All eight subspecies of the shy animal are critically endangered, scientists say. And when pangolins disappear, so does the ecological balance in their natural habitats.

“In the 21st century we really should not be eating species to extinction,” Jonathan Baillie, a leading expert, said in 2014. “There is simply no excuse for allowing this illegal trade to continue.” In the preceding decade, more than a million pangolins are believed to have been hunted, the IUCN estimated.

Wildlife experts estimate that nine out of 10 illegally trafficked pangolins are not detected by authorities.

A global ban on the trade that came into effect in January 2017 did not turn things around. Record numbers of pangolins have been seized so far this year, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an advocacy organisation.

In February, a 30-ton seizure in Sabah, Malaysia, was the largest recorded so far. In April, the Singapore authorities intercepted 12.9 tons of scales, a record seizure equivalent to 36,000 pangolins. A few days later, Singapore confiscated an additional 12.7 tons. In July, another bust led to the discovery of an 11.9-ton shipment, making 2019 a record year.

Global seizures have surpassed the 2018 figures by a wide margin, according to the EIA. Its researchers estimate that an equivalent of 110,182 pangolins has been confiscated by law enforcement this year so far – a 54.5% increase compared with last year.

Pangolin scales seized by Indonesian authorities during a raid. The scales are now in Bogor, Indonesia for research. Footage: Tommy Apriando / Tempo, Mongabay Indonesia

One reason is the increased awareness by law enforcement, said Darren Pietersen, the director of research and conservation at Tikki Hywood Foundation. “Various research articles suggest that this increase is at least in part a genuine increase in the number of pangolins being poached,” he said.

Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of smuggling is likely to continue undetected, our reporting suggests. Only a tenth of trafficked wildlife is actually intercepted, according to one Interpol estimate.

Our journalists traced the illegal trade routes from roadside markets in Cameroon and elsewhere to intermediaries and traffickers in Nepal back to China. The following chapters will provide insights into a shadow economy that has thrived out of sight. Without intervention, this illegal trade will drive the animal to extinction.

Despite the scale of the trade, little is actually known about it, even among prosecutors and law enforcement officials in its key market: China.

Read more of our reporting in China, Cameroon, Nepal and elsewhere on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at pangolinreports.com. If you’ve been forwarded this email, sign up here to receive exclusive content from our global team of local journalists.