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Request to release pangolins denied

Despite planning to release pangolins at the beginning of September, an inability to secure official permission is hampering Save Vietnam’s Wildlife efforts. This unanticipated difficulty stems from a directive from the Vietnamese Ministry of Justice earlier this year. Vietnamese law can be confusing and convoluted – however for those of you interested in reading a little more I’d like to offer a brief explanation. 

There two decrees affect pangolins in the wildlife trade - Decree 32 and Decree 160. Decree 32 was issued in 2006 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and contains two lists of species - 1B and 2B; each of these lists confers a different level of legislative protection over the species. Pangolins are listed at level 2B, the lower level of protection – effectively meaning traders and hunters caught with pangolins are simply fined and released. Decree 160 was issued in 2013 and contains a list of ‘Priority Species’. Trafficking of these species is considered a criminal offence, proceeds to criminal trial, and is punishable by large fines and lengthy jail time. Pangolins are on this list of Priority Species, effectively conflicting with their status as a 2B species.

In theory, 160 should have replaced 32, however this was not made clear when the decree was issued and has left many enforcement agencies unsure of how to treat the offense of trafficking pangolins and their parts. In response, earlier this year the Ministry of Justice issued a directive to enforcement agencies to follow 160 – treating pangolin trafficking as a criminal offence and serious crime, regardless of whether it was a single scale or a whole animal being traded. 

On the ground, this has meant that we have been instructed to keep pangolins in our facilities until the cessation of criminal trials. Obviously this could take months and represents a significant issue for us. Ever increasing numbers of pangolins being confiscated and sent to our centre, means we need to be able to release animals as soon as they are deemed suitable candidates. Beyond that, it means our resources as a rehabilitation centre are committed to maintaining animals which should otherwise be back in the wild, and ultimately means we are unable to accept more. This is the issue currently faced by SVW with the arrival of 75 pangolins within 4 weeks over August/September, swelling number beyond our capacity. Many of these pangolins arrived in poor health, and mortality rates have been higher than is usual for our centre – and the surviving animals have been denied release. 

SVW has petitioned the MARD, as well as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE), and spoken in person with USAID and the Vietnamese Customs Department at the recent workshop “Strengthening the effectiveness of combating illicit wildlife trade in Vietnam”. 

Until we can resolve this issues, SVW will continue to care for pangolins awaiting release at the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Centre. If you’d like more information, or to find out how you can help us, please email us at

Submitted by Heidi Quine