December 3, 2018
Alarming footage captured by World Animal Protection and WildCRU (Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford) reveals the heart-breaking moment a pangolin is brutally killed for its body parts to be sold on the black market, in Assam, north-eastern India.
Highly trafficked: More than a million pangolins are believed to have been killed for the traditional Asian medicine trade between 2000-2013
The footage was captured by an undercover researcher on their mobile phone, and shows a terrified pangolin hiding from hunters in a hollowed-out tree clinging for life, as its tail is tugged. The hunters use axes to cut the tree, but failing to remove the desperate animal, they light a fire to smoke it out. As the pangolin starts to suffocate and lose consciousness it makes a bolt for freedom but is captured, bagged and taken to a hut where the next stage of the ordeal takes place. The pangolin is repeatedly bludgeoned with a machete until it can barely move. While bleeding, it is then thrown into a cauldron of boiling water possibly still alive, where its tragic struggle comes to an end.
Pangolins are often referred to as the world’s most trafficked mammal and this footage demonstrates the huge cruelty the animals endure when hunted. The harrowing clip is part of a two-year study by researchers from World Animal Protection and the University of Oxford, into traditional hunting practices in the state of Assam, that borders Bhutan. Interviews conducted by researchers with over 140 local hunters found that pangolins were largely targeted for their scales that are sold for a premium, with hunters earning the equivalent of four months’ salary for a single pangolin. The hunters from these communities were clearly unaware of the part they are playing in the international trafficking trade. Yet the illegal traders that then sell the animal products across the borders on the black market go on to make a large profit.
Pangolin scales are used in traditional Asian medicine particularly in China and Vietnam. Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same material that makes human fingernails and hair, and they have no proven medicinal value. Pangolin meat is also considered to be a delicacy in some countries, and the scales are also used as decorations for rituals and jewellery. They are considered to be at high risk of extinction primarily as a result of illegal1 poaching.
Gajender K Sharma, India Country Director at World Animal Protection said, “Suffocated with smoke, beaten and boiled alive – this is a terrifying ordeal and Pangolins clearly suffer immensely. This footage shines a spotlight on how truly shocking the practice of hunting pangolins truly is. Not only is this a major conservation issue – it’s a devastating animal welfare concern. The two species of Pangolins ‘Manis crassicaudata and Manis pentadacytla' found in India have the highest protection with both being listed on Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. We urge the central and respective state governments to take strict measures to put an end to poaching of pangolins.”
Professor David Macdonald, WildCRU, Department of Zoology, Oxford University said, “Increasing demand driven by traditional Asian medicine is making pangolins a lucrative catch. It’s easy to see why they are being commercially exploited, as scales from just one pangolin can offer a life changing sum of money for people in these communities, but it’s in no way sustainable. Wild pangolin numbers are beginning to plummet.”
Reliable estimates of how many pangolins remain in the wild are lacking, although it is thought that over a million individual pangolins were taken from the wild between 2000, and 20132. There are eight species of pangolin3, all of which are considered threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species4.
“Since 1975, both the Chinese and Indian pangolins have been included in Appendix II of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, to which an annotation was added at the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties in 2000. This annotation established zero export quotas for wild caught Asian pangolins traded for commercial purposes. Despite these measures, both species of pangolins in India continue to be exploited for local consumptive uses and are frequently found in illegal trade, both domestic and international,” Gajender added further.
World Animal Protection works tirelessly to prevent cruelty to animals around the world. Although it is well documented that pangolins are being hunted and trafficked, until now, the immense suffering and cruelty that these animals endure when they are hunted has remained relatively overlooked.
To combat the global trade in their bodies and scales, and to protect pangolins from the unimaginable suffering they endure we are calling for:
Strong enforcement of national and international laws
Removal of pangolins from the Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China – the traditional medicine handbook for the industry
Investment in and promotion of herbal and synthetic alternatives
Combined and coordinated efforts by governments, NGOs and the traditional Asian medicine community to eliminate consumer demand for pangolin-based traditional Asian medicines, particularly in China and Vietnam
Support for alternative livelihoods, alleviation of poverty and education programmes within rural communities wherever pangolins are found globally, to stop the slaughter.
Notes to the editor
For an interview with a spokesperson contact Shashwat Raj: [email protected]
All images should be credited as: © Neil D’Cruze
Watch the undercover videos of the pangolin being captured and processed and download the images here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/j28ebudbln1fmru/AACJQTp2e41QsjIYGPpz2zHea?dl=0
Read the full report on the cruel exploitation of wild animals here.
This research represents an on-going collaboration between researchers from World Animal Protection and WildCRU University of Oxford.
Our study focussed on three of the predominant indigenous tribes of Assam State in Northeast India: (1) Biate; (2) Dimasa; and (3) Karbi. These tribes are characterised by unique traditions and cultures distinct from each other, and from other ethnic groups of the region.
Broadly speaking, subsistence agriculture or hunting and gathering are practiced by rural villagers belonging to all three groups.
Laws in India
Selling pangolins for commercial gain in India is illegal under Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection)Act 1972. However, hunting pangolins outside of ‘Reserved Forests’ (i.e. protected areas) for personal use is not illegal for certain native tribal communities, such as the Biate, Dimasa and Karbitribal communities. This assumes (1) there is no contravening law made by the Regional Council on hunting; (2) the Council’s law prevails over the State’s law; and (3) the State Governor has not passed any law to restrict hunting. Nevertheless, the State Governor has the power to amend the laws of the Regional Council in any situation where conflict should occur.
1 – Hunting for commercial gain in India is illegal, although hunting pangolins outside of protected areas for personal use is not necessarily illegal for certain native tribal communities. In this study, many of the hunters were from tribal groups.
3 – the Chinese pangolin, Indian pangolin, Sunda pangolin and Philippine pangolin, which inhabit Asia, and the tree pangolin, long-tailed pangolin, giant pangolin and Temminck’s ground pangolin which occur in Africa.