Nigeria becomes Africa's staging ground for illegal pangolin trade with Asia

Scaly and shy, the pangolin is the world's most trafficked mammal.

Prized in Asia for its use in medicine, Nigeria has become a main hub for the illegal trade of the unique creature.

Law enforcement officials, NGOs and wildlife experts say the West African country's borders, lax law enforcement, widespread corruption and ports have helped criminal networks corner most of the African trade in pangolins.

This year alone, Hong Kong and Singapore have intercepted three huge shipments of pangolin scales weighing a combined 33.9 tonnes and worth more than $100 million, all from Nigeria.


"We have had about 8,000 metric tonnes of pangolins seized at a time here in Nigeria, but sometimes Nigeria is just a point of convergence."

Demand for African pangolins in countries including China and Vietnam has been growing as the number of Asian pangolins has dwindled over the years, to the point where two of the four Asian species are now on the critically endangered list.

In the thick forests of southwestern Nigeria, the effect of the Asian trade is being felt.

For generations, families have hunted, traded and made medicine from the mammal.


"We used to hunt pangolin here, there used to be lots of animals in this forest, but they are scarce now. It is only once in a while that we see them."

All four African species of pangolin were classed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature when commercial trade was banned in 2016, and some experts say the animal could be extinct in 20 years.

Other African countries known for pangolin trafficking such as Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, all say they have clamped down on the illicit trade as well, pushing pangolin traffickers to focus their efforts on Nigeria.