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Life still precarious for pangolins despite Vietnam's illegal trade crackdown

Arrests, prosecutions and wildlife seizures are up in Vietnam, but conservationists warn corruption and patchy law enforcement mean the scourge of trafficking continues.

This photograph taken on 14 September 2020 shows a pangolin emerging from an underground tunnel at night at Save Vietnam's Wildlife, a group that runs a pangolin conservation programme inside the Cuc Phuong National Park in northern province of Ninh Binh. Picture: AFP

VIETNAM – Head keeper Tran Van Truong gently takes a curled-up pangolin into his arms, comforting the shy creature rescued months earlier from traffickers in Vietnam.

Life remains precarious for the world's most trafficked mammal despite the country's renewed vow to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade that many blame for the coronavirus pandemic.

Arrests, prosecutions and wildlife seizures are up in Vietnam, but conservationists warn corruption and patchy law enforcement mean the scourge of trafficking continues.

Truong works at a centre in northern Cuc Phuong National Park run by Save Vietnam's Wildlife - a group that has rescued around 2,000 of the so-called "scaly anteaters" in the last six years.

The 27-year-old remembers the day he discovered more than a 100 tied up in sacks, cast on the ground by police outside the truck that had carried them.

"Most of them were dead due to exhaustion," he recalls, explaining they would have had no air or water. "They get easily stressed."

Vietnam is both a consumption and a transport hub for illegal wildlife in Asia.

The pangolin's scales are falsely thought to cure anything from impotence to menstrual cramps and even cancer in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine and its flesh is also seen as a delicacy.

But earlier this year, China removed pangolin parts from its official list of traditional medicines and there are some encouraging signs in Vietnam too.

Wildlife trafficking seizures in the country have increased 44% over a two-year period, according to NGO Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV).

In the first six months of 2020, 97% resulted in arrest.

Prosecutions are also significantly up.

The shift came on the back of a revised law in 2018 that pushed up punishments, both fines and prison terms, and closed loopholes - an effective way to deter wildlife crime, the NGO says.