State of the Planet

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Pangolins and the Consumers of Wildlife Trafficking

Photo: Ajit Huilgol via Flikr CC BY 2.0

“You know of tigers but what of the relatively obscure pangolin?”

Nandini Velho, postdoctoral scientist at the Earth Institute, asks this question in a recent op-ed in The Wire. Drawing from her experience researching the social and health outcomes in and around India’s protected areas, Velho examines how wildlife trafficking is shifting from large animals, such as tigers, to smaller animals such as pangolins. Pangolins, she writes, are one of the world’s most trafficked mammals, and pangolin products—including wallets, boots, and belts made from the animal’s scales—make their way almost exclusively to the U.S.

While stories about animal trafficking often focus on the poachers and middlemen, Velho turns the focus to consumers who create the demand for wildlife products. She provides the example of her field assistant, who admitted to killing two pangolins to sell their skins: “The poacher and consumer come home to different realities. To try and run his home, my assistant worked a small tea and snack shop in his village. He had to close his shop as he did not have enough money to restock supplies. But for the consumers of illegal wildlife products, the tags on our belts and boots do not reflect the true price and consequences of our actions.”

Velho is a co-editor of Conservation from the Margins, an edited volume exploring the impact of sociopolitical issues on biodiversity in India.

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5 years ago

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