Characterising pangolin trade in China from a social science perspective

Change log

The demand for wildlife products around the world is growing rapidly according to various researches. As a result, trade in, and consumption of, wildlife products has become a major threat to global biodiversity. Pangolins are currently recognised as one of the most trafficked mammalian taxa globally, due to the high international and local demand for their products. Many recognize China as one of the biggest markets for pangolin products. Thus, its role in tackling illegal pangolin trade is a crucial responsibility for China globally. However, pangolin trade and markets in China have been little investigated in any holistic and in-depth way. My study uses social science approaches and aims to provide insights on pangolin trade and markets in China to help suggesting more effective conservation interventions.

Literature, regulations, and seven online trade platforms related to pangolin trade and conservation were searched and relevant data were collected to provide background knowledge of current pangolin trade and markets in China. Fieldwork was conducted in the two Chinese provinces of Henan and Hainan from Sept 2016 to Apr 2017. Questionnaire surveys, semi-structured interviews, in-depth discussions with stakeholders along the pangolin trading chain were the main social science methods used in this research. Market Reduction Approaches (Schneider 2008) and Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen 1991) were used as theoretical frameworks to design the research questions. One pangolin hunter, 131 individual villagers, four villager groups (four to ten people per group), 34 reserve workers, two pangolin meat dealers, four pangolin meat consumers, five restaurant owners, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners in 41 hospitals, sellers in 134 pharmaceutical shops, two TCM wholesalers, and 2168 members of the general public were interviewed or surveyed in this study.

Results show that illegal pangolin trade is widespread in the two study provinces of mainland China, especially in TCM markets, which were active both online and offline. The wild pangolin populations on Hainan Island still face threats from poaching and local demand for wildmeat. The main contributors to the widespread illegal trade were the lack of adequate law enforcement; poor awareness of trade related regulations among public and some key stakeholders; and the absence of certain key stakeholders in pangolin conservation process, such as the TCM community. Through this study, I suggest enforcement could be strengthened through increasing public participation in the process, in ways of reporting illicit trade and products. This requires enhancing public knowledge and awareness on pangolin trade and related regulations. On the other hand, to deal with the lack of representation of TCM community in pangolin conservation, their unique function and role in the overall conservation blueprint needs to be highlighted and targeted interventions are needed. In summary, achieving effective pangolin conservation in China needs close collaboration between all key stakeholders to correspondingly address the multiple types of demand on pangolin products. Methodology and insights from this study can also contribute to helping conservation in China or globally, and not only for pangolins, but for other threatened species as well.


Correction: there was a calculation error on page 117 that “778.1 kg of roasted scales during the previous year, which was estimated as equivalent to 972.6 kg of raw scales (940.8 kg from Henan hospitals and 31.8 kg from Hainan hospitals)” should be “423.0 kg of roasted scales during the previous year, which is equivalent to 528.8 kg of raw scales (403.7 kg from Henan hospitals and 19.2 kg from Hainan hospitals)”

Leader-Williams, Nigel
Turvey, Samuel
Sandbrook, Chris
China, Conservation, Pangolin, Wildlife trade, Social science
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge