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Genetic identification of African pangolins and their origin in illegal trade

May 16, 2020

To track the illegal pangolin trade from Africa to Asia, we analyzed 1800 DNA samples from 30 seizures of African pangolin scales in Hong Kong during the period 2012–2016. We concluded that all four African pangolin species were present in trade, and that the white-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) appeared most frequently (88.5%) in our samples. All six previously described phylogeographic lineages originating from the entire distribution range of P. tricuspis were found in the seizures, and the western central African lineage alone accounted for 67.1% of the samples of this species. Confirmed by modelling data, high DNA haplotype richness was present in most of the pangolin scale seizures, including those contained in small air parcels and large-volume sea shipments. Results suggest that African pangolins were hunted across large areas of their natural range and then delivered to a small number of trade transit hubs. Our study illustrates the utility of genetic analysis for characterizing the illegal pangolin trade and identifying the geographic origin of poaching hotspots.

Publication Year 2020
Title Genetic identification of African pangolins and their origin in illegal trade
DOI 10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e01119
Authors Huarong Zhang, Gary Ades, Mark P. Miller, Feng Yang, Kwok-wai Lai, Gunter A. Fischer
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Ecology and Conservation
Index ID 70212522
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center