Genetic Identification of African Pangolins and Their Origin in Illegal Trade

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Pangolins are heavily poached, partly due to growing demand in East Asia for their scales and meat. Analysis of DNA from seized animals is an underutilized but powerful approach to help identify captured species and elucidate trade routes. 

To track the illegal pangolin trade from Africa to Asia, researchers analyzed DNA from 30 seizures of African pangolin scales in Hong Kong during 2012-2016. All four African pangolin species were represented in the seized samples, and the white-bellied pangolin appeared most frequently. Results of DNA analyses on pangolin lineages indicated that western central Africa was a major source of the illegal trade, and that Nigeria and Cameroon were major export points. Additional genetic information showed that African pangolins were hunted across large areas of their natural range and then delivered to a small number of trade transit hubs. This study illustrates the utility of genetic analysis for characterizing the illegal pangolin trade and identifying the geographic origin of poaching hotspots.

Zhang, H., Ades, G., Miller, M.P., Yang, F., Lai, K., Fischer, G.A., 2020, Genetic identification of African pangolins and their origin in illegal trade: Global Ecology and Conservation, v. 23, p. e01119, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e01119