The fight to stop pangolin extinction

The Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online is looking out for this elusive mammal

Before you reach the end of this article, a pangolin will be poached from the wild, and its scales likely advertised for sale online.

You may not know that February 15 is World Pangolin Day, or that the trade in these elusive mammals is staggering. An estimated 1 million pangolins were trafficked in the last ten years, though this number may be conservative given the volume of recent pangolin scale seizures. An estimated 195,000 pangolins were trafficked in 2019 alone, according to Callender, et.al (2020).

Why are pangolins poached?

Whole pangolins are consumed as a delicacy in countries like Vietnam and China.

Pangolin scales, when used in traditional medicine, are believed to cure various ailments, though this has not been scientifically proven.

Pangolin skins are processed into leather products like boots, belts, and bags. These are seen primarily in the United States and Mexico.

Historically pangolins were poached primarily for bushmeat, with their scales cast aside as byproducts. Over the last decade, however, the price fetched for skins, scales and the whole animal in countries like Vietnam and China, as well as in the US, has resulted in decimated populations. All eight species of pangolin are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the highest level of international law.

With an increase in connectivity and ease of sharing content around the world, the trafficking of these animals has been exacerbated by an unlikely culprit; the Internet. And they aren’t alone. The world’s most endangered species, from elephants, to rhinos and tigers, can all be found with a scroll or a swipe across everyday apps. Criminals now have access to the world’s biggest marketplace through e-commerce, social media and search platforms, enabling them to advertise illegally traded species and process transactions with minimal risk.

Bringing together the largest online companies to fight illegal online trade of wildlife

WWF, along with partners TRAFFIC and IFAW, launched the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online in 2018 to unite the tech sector in shutting down this open route for illegal trade. Companies work together with wildlife experts to strengthen and harmonize wildlife policies, train enforcement staff to better detect endangered species and their products, educate billions of users about wildlife trafficking and how to report illegal products, enhance automated detection systems such as image recognition, and share learning across the industry.

Given the scale and ever-evolving nature of the Internet, Coalition activities aim to be inclusive and focused on long-term, sustained impact. With this thinking, the Cyber Spotter Program was launched in 2017 to catalyze citizen science to help detect and report illegal wildlife products across the web. To date, a few dozen volunteers have flagged 3,300 endangered species listings that have been removed by company partners on 11 different platforms. And this is just the start.

What's next for the Coalition

The program is looking to expand globally, with pilots kicking off in the EU and Singapore in 2019. If you are interested in a tangible way to help stop wildlife trafficking, consider joining the next round of the Coalition Cyber Spotter Program. Learn more at www.endwildlifetraffickingonline.org.

While a pangolin may have been poached by the time you reached the bottom of this article, another online listing has been removed by a major tech company fighting to keep pangolins offline and in the wild with WWF. By the end of 2020, we’re hoping that no one has to ask what a pangolin is and that you won’t be able to find one online, anywhere.