The pangolin trade explained: situation in Vietnam

By Trang Bui, on May 2, 2019

What is Vietnam’s role in the illicit trade?

Vietnam is the destination, transit spot and also the origin of trafficked pangolins. Vietnam, along with China, is one of the largest markets of this illegal trade, according to NGOs such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and WildAid. The country’s emerging middle class is the main driver of the trade.

How big is the estimated pangolin population? How many have been seized in recent years?

Vietnam is home to two pangolin species: the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) in the south of the country and Manis pentadactyla in the north. It is difficult to estimate the pangolin population figures  in Vietnam due to their usual habitat in forested areas and secretive nature. However, observers agree that pangolins are disappearing rapidly. The IUCN considers both pangolin species of Vietnam critically endangered, while the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Vietnam estimates that the country has lost 80% to 90% of its pangolins over the past three decades because of illegal trade.[2]

TRAFFIC, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, reports that from 2011 to 2015, Vietnam was involved in 90 pangolin smuggling cases, in which it was the destination, transit spot and origin of almost 30 tons of trafficked pangolin products.[3] Seizures in large volumes continued in recent years. The biggest haul was a transport of 6 tonnes of pangolin scales from Nigeria that was seized  at the port of Danang in October 2018.[4]

What is the major use of pangolins?

Pangolins are primarily sought for their meat and for traditional medicine purposes. A USAid survey in 2018 found out the beliefs that pangolin products, such as scales and powder, “bring good health” and “increase efficacy of other medicinal ingredients” are two primary drivers of the high demand. also It is also believed that pangolin parts can detox the body, cure skin rashes or allergies, help lactating women, treat cancer. Pangolin meal is considered to be a delicacy.

There is a high social status associated with consuming pangolins and their parts. [5]

Are there any laws that ban farming, poaching or selling pangolins? What are the penalties?

In Vietnam, pangolins are protected by the Revised Penal Code 2017 that took effect on January 1, 2018. Killing, trafficking, transporting, trading, storing, selling endangered species products are illegal. Individual violators can be imprisoned for up to 15 years or fined up to 5 billion Vietnamese dong ($215,100). Legal entities an be fined  15 billion Vietnamese dong ($645,377) — and a permanent suspension. These fines vary according to the value of trafficked goods. [6]

Have there been any actual prosecutions?  Have there been any court cases?

Vietnam has intercepted large volumes of trafficked pangolins in recent years. In April 2018, 3.8 tons of pangolin scales from Congo were seized in Ho Chi Minh City. [7] In October 2018, Da Nang City authority seized 6 tons of pangolin scales and 2 tons of smuggled ivory — all from Nigeria.[8]

In October 2018, police in Hai Phong arrested Nguyen Quang Loi for allegedly smuggling dozens of kilograms of pangolin scales.[9] In January 2019, nine people in Ha Tinh Province were detained for farming 215 pangolins. [10]

Who are the people involved the in the trade of pangolins? Who they sell the pangolins to and for how much?

Locals poach pangolins, which are purchased by middlemen, who would sell the animals to dealers who in turn ship pangolins to other parts in Vietnam, or overseas, a WildAid report shows. [5] Buyers of pangolin parts are typically male, have high income and are on average, 35-38 years old, according to a USAid survey in 2016. [11] Consumers even include government officials. [12]

Scales sell for between 5.5 million to 5.6 million Vietnamese dong (US$250) per kg. WildAid’s investigation found that local Vietnamese restaurants pay traders more than 5 million Vietnamese dong (US$ 217) for a kilo of pangolin meat.

How can you help?


Education for Nature Vietnam:; 1800 1522

Police department for the prevention of environmental crimes:; 1800 588 875

NGO Contacts:

IUCN, Vietnam Office:; +84 (24) 3726 1575

TRAFFIC, Vietnam Office:; +84 24 3726 5023

WildAid Vietnam:; +84 8668 13513

Education for Nature – Vietnam:; +84 24 6281 5424

Wildlife Conservation Society Vietnam:; + 84 24 35149750

Save Vietnam’s Wildlife:; + 84 229 3848 053

Trang Bui

Trang Bui is a multimedia freelance journalist with three years’ experience working with Vietnam’s and international…