Meet the world’s most trafficked mammal. The Asian pangolin, or scaly anteater, is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). But that hasn’t stopped poachers and traders taking a million pangolins from the wild in the past decade, according to IUCN estimates.

­­­­­­­­A 2016 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol says tens of tons of pangolin meat and scales, as well as the live creatures themselves, are trafficked every year. The scales are used in traditional medicine; the meat is considered a luxury.

The UNEP/Interpol report highlights Myanmar as an emerging hub for the illegal trade of the animals.

 Pangolin, the world's most trafficked mammal
Image: UNEP/Interpol

The chart shows how pangolins are shipped from a number of Asian nations via Myanmar and then onwards to China. The report says 20 tons of scales were seized between 2007 and 2015.


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Chemicals, seafood and conflict diamonds

The UNEP/Interpol report, The Rise of Environmental Crime, goes far beyond animal poaching to assess the devastating impact of the illegal global trade in environmental products.

It details how “criminals now include in their trafficking portfolios waste, chemicals, ozone-depleting substances, illegally caught seafood, timber and other forest products, as well as conflict minerals including gold and diamonds”.

UNEP and Interpol estimate the total value of these stolen and trafficked environmental products to be as high as $258 billion.

That figure makes environmental crime the world’s fourth biggest criminal trade and it’s growing faster than ever. The report suggests environmental crime is growing at two to three times the rate of the global economy.

Taking on the traffickers

Given the broad range of environmental crime, there is no single solution to stopping the illegal exploitation of wildlife and natural resources.

Image: UNEP/Interpol

The report suggests a five-stage approach to tackling environmental crime.

The first is to improve the collecting and sharing of information.

The second stage calls on governments to strengthen the rule of environmental law and to take more seriously the threats posed by eco-crimes to peace, security and sustainable development.

Third, the command and control of efforts to tackle environmental crime should be centralized. This approach has worked well in Brazil, where illegal deforestation in the Amazon has been slowed dramatically by agencies working together.

The fourth recommendation is to make sure that agencies tackling environmental crime are well funded and resourced.

Poverty is one of the main reasons people enter into the illegal trade in environmental products. So, the final piece of the plan is to offer economic and financial incentives that give traffickers other options for making a living.

The report's authors suggest the same economic approach can also be used to limit demand.