Pangolins and Traditional medicine in Vietnam

March 1, 2024

Pangolins, the enigmatic animals with their armored scales and elusive behavior, have long been a part of Asian culture, specifically in the field of Traditional medicine. However, their fate hangs in the balance as demand for their meat and scales continues to rise, mostly due to misinformation on their “healing properties” stemming from Traditional medicine. In this article, we delve into the case of pangolin consumption in Vietnam, as well as explore its cultural roots, ecological impact, and the urgent need for conservation efforts.

Pangolin Scales and Traditional medicine

Pangolins, unique mammals covered in keratinous scales, are essential to the ecosystem as insectivores, controlling ant and termite populations. However, their very armor has become their undoing. In Vietnam, and across Asia, pangolin scales are believed to possess various medicinal properties, used for ailments like lactation issues, rheumatism, and swelling. However, scientific evidence to support these claims is lacking, and safer, effective alternatives exist for most conditions.

The use of pangolin scales in Traditional medicine is still prevalent.

Vietnam, a Southeast Asian nation with a rich cultural heritage, is also a country grappling with a crucial conservation challenge: the dwindling population of pangolins, the world’s most trafficked mammal. This vulnerability stems, in part, from the demand for their scales in Traditional Medicine practices. While these practices hold cultural significance, they pose a significant threat to pangolin survival, pushing them towards the brink of extinction.

The Demand and the Drivers

The demand for pangolin scales in Vietnam stems from several factors. First of all, Traditional Medicine holds a significant place in Vietnamese healthcare, particularly in rural areas. Practitioners often prescribe pangolin scales based on unproven beliefs and historical practices. In remote regions, access to standardized healthcare might be limited, leading individuals to rely on traditional remedies.

The demand for pangolin scales in Vietnam stems from several factors.

Other factors may also include misinformation and lack of awareness. This is due to the fact that the public often lacks knowledge about the detrimental impact of consuming pangolins on both wildlife conservation and human health. All of this makes pangolin scales and other pangolin products have high economic value. The illegal trade in pangolin scales is lucrative, fueling criminal networks and making enforcement even more challenging than ever.

The Devastating Consequences

The consequences of consuming pangolins for Traditional medicine are truly severe. All eight pangolin species are listed as vulnerable or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, primarily due to poaching for scales. Vietnam acts as a transit point for the illegal pangolin trade, further contributing to the decline of these populations across Asia. Not only that, the loss of pangolins disrupts the natural food chain, allowing insect populations to rise unchecked and potentially causing harm to agricultural crops. In addition, pangolins are potential reservoirs of viruses like SARS-CoV-2, raising concerns about the spillover of zoonotic diseases to humans when wildlife trade persists.

Combating the Crisis: A Multifaceted Approach

Fortunately, various efforts are underway to address this complex issue. Educational campaigns are raising public awareness about the unscientific nature of claims regarding pangolin scales and the environmental and ethical dangers associated with their consumption. Furthermore, efforts to engage with Traditional medicine practitioners have also been made. Collaborations with Traditional medicine practitioners are crucial to explore effective alternatives to pangolin scales, promoting the use of plant-based ingredients and evidence-based substitutes. Another point is that strengthening law enforcement efforts, including increased patrols and stricter penalties, are also vital to disrupting illegal wildlife trafficking networks.

All eight species of pangolins is endangered.

The future of pangolins in Vietnam hinges on a collective effort to shift away from the consumption of their scales for Traditional medicine. By promoting evidence-based medicine, raising awareness, and combating illegal wildlife trade, we can safeguard these magnificent creatures and ensure a healthy and sustainable future for both humans and wildlife.

For more information on pangolins and traditional medicine, see our Pangolins and the Practitioner Perspective report down below (English version here).


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