Distressing video has captured the moment one of the world’s most-hunted mammals was hacked to death with a machete and then boiled.
Footage shows hunters in the Indian state of Assam killing an endangered pangolin for its scales, which fetch a high price in Vietnam and
Quack doctors believe the scales can cure everything from cancer to impotence, but in fact they are made of keratin – the same substance as human hair and nails – and have no recognised medicinal value.
Pangolins are the world’s most-trafficked mammal, but new footage reveals that they are also hunted in eastern Indian for their scales
The scales are highly prized in Vietnam and China for use in traditional medicine, with quack doctors claiming they can cure everything from cancer to impotence
The video was captured by an undercover researcher from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford and World Animal Protection.
Academics were studying traditional hunting practices in the state of Assam when they recorded footage of a pangolin hunt.
Researchers spoke with 140 hunters who told them that pangolins are especially prized because they can fetch the equivalent of four months’ salary for a single kill.
But the locals were unaware of the wider black market trade in pangolin scales or where their products will eventually end up, the study found.
In the video, hunters can be seen hacking apart a tree where a pangolin has been found hiding, before attempting to pull it out by its tail.
Pangolins’ instinct is to curl up into a ball when threatened, making them easy to transport and is one of the reasons they are so trafficked
For Indian hunters the animals make an appealing kill because they can earn four months’ wages from a single animal
Once the pangolin has been killed it is boiled to remove the scales, which are then sold on to the black market and make their way to Asia
When that fails, they light a fire and fill the tree with smoke, causing the suffocating animal to drop out of its hiding place.
Picking it up by its tail, they drag it into the middle of a clearing before hacking at its neck with a machete.
Despite several brutal blows the pangolin appears to still be alive – though badly bleeding – as the hunters carry it to a pot of boiling water and drop it in.
After several minutes in the pot the animal’s corpse is pulled out and the precious scales are peeled away.
Lead researcher Dr Neil D’Cruze said: ‘Suffocated with smoke, beaten and boiled alive – this is a terrifying ordeal and pangolins clearly suffer immensely.
‘This footage shines a spotlight on how truly shocking the practice of hunting pangolins truly is.
The scales are believed to provide cures for all sorts of ailments, but in fact are made of keratin – the same substance as human nails – and have no recognised medical value
Researchers say local hunters seem to have no idea of the black market value of the scales, or where their products will end up
Pangolin scales are also used to make jewellery and as decorations during ritual ceremonies
‘Not only is this a major conservation issue – it’s a devastating animal welfare concern. If we want to protect pangolins from pain and suffering in the countries they come from, we need to tackle the illegal poaching trade.’
Professor David Macdonald, who is World Animal Protection’s global wildlife advisor, added: ‘Increasing demand driven by traditional Asian medicine is making pangolins a lucrative catch.
‘It’s easy to see why they are being commercially exploited, as scales from just one pangolin can offer a life changing sum of money for people in these communities, but it’s in no way sustainable.
‘Wild pangolin numbers are beginning to plummet.’
Reliable estimates of how many pangolins remain in the wild are lacking, although it is thought that over a million individual pangolins were taken from the wild between 2000, and 2013.
There are eight species of pangolin, all of which are considered threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.