Pangolin Genome Enables Tracking of Illicit Poaching

White-bellied pangolin

UCLA scientists and colleagues have created a genetic, source-to-destination map of the most trafficked mammal in the world — the pangolin — using samples from living white-bellied pangolins and scales from the animals confiscated at illicit markets. Disrupting the illegal pangolin trade has proved challenging: The eight different species, found in 23 countries, have a collective range of 2.3 million square miles, and their scales are transported around the world for sale as traditional medicine. The white-bellied African species is typically shipped to China and other Asian countries. Now, researchers have developed a powerful new approach that uses genomics to identify poaching and trafficking hotspots. Using these findings and research methods outlined in a study published on December 14, 2023 in Science, law enforcement agencies can now trace white-bellied pangolin products from the international supply chain to the places in Africa where the animals were poached. The Science article is titled “Genomic Analyses Reveal Poaching Hotspots and Illegal Trade in Pangolins from Africa to Asia.”

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