For several years stories have circulated on the internet that pangolin scales contain Tramadol HCl, a substance binder particle found in psychotropic drugs such as methamphetamine.
The first mention of pangolin scales being used in the manufacture of methamphetamine appears to have been made in a July 2015 edition of Mongabay, which cited an Indonesian customs official named Iwan Hermawan as saying they could be used for this purpose. In a September 2016 edition of the Times of India a story citing an undated and untitled ‘recent Interpol report’, gave the rumour new life.
The rumour has subsequently been repeated as fact in otherwise reliable publications including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Nation, Phys.org, and TodayOnline. AEC News Today is also guilty. In an article titled Chinese medicine, fake news, & Asean’s role in pushing pangolins to the brink (video) published last year we repeated the rumour before receiving a response from Interpol.
Spurred-on by the vigorous protests of one of our readers we pursued Interpol for an answer. When the answer came it left no doubt over the matter. “Interpol has not issued any such report or statement”, the international policing body advised. AEC News Today immediately updated our story.
No drugs in pangolin scales
Now scientists at the world’s only full service wildlife crime lab have put the matter to rest for good. An examination of the scales of all known pangolin species found “no traces of tramadol at all”.
The equivalent to a sophisticated police crime lab, the US National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory (NFWL) in Ashland, Oregon, supports law enforcement agencies globally in providing the scientific evidence needed to help convict people in cases involving wildlife. There is no more authorative source in the world.
In the video above NFWL lab director Ken Goddard briefly explains the work of the laboratory, saying “we became aware of this interesting story that you could grind up pangolin scales and extract chemicals out of them to make illicit drugs”.
While the degree to which the rumour is contributing to the rampant trafficing and hunting of pangolins is unknown, NFWS forensic scientist Rachel Jacobs says examining the factual basis to the stories was something the laboratory could easily do.
Small samples of the scales of all eight known pangolin species were taken from 104 pangolins and subjected to analysis in a Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry (DART-TOFMS) machine.
Pangolins provide no medicinal benefit
In a report published on Conservation Science and Practice the NFWL scientists explain their methodology, concluding with: ‘Our probe of tramadol and tramadol HCl indicates that none of the scales representing all eight pangolin species contained tramadol, tramadol HCl, or its corresponding isotopes within the 15 mmu window and threshold of 5 per cent of the base peak’.
The NFWL study is just the latest to debunk the myths surrounding the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of pangolin scales and meat. Believed by many Vietnamese and Chinese to be beneficial in the treatment of a wide range of ailments and diseases, controlled trials have found treatments using pangolin scales useless. Hardly surprising seeing that there is little difference between pangolin scales and human toe nails.
Officially the most trafficked mammal in the world, it is estimated that one pangolin is removed from the wild every five minutes, rapidly pushing the species to the brink of extintion.
Earlier this month the European Union (EU) announced an €10 million (about $11.14 million) initiative aimed at disrupting the flow of illegally trafficked wildlife through the Greater Mekong region (See: EU stumps up $11mln for Greater Mekong wildlife conservation).
Feature video National Geographic
- Pangolins: One of the world’s least known and most hunted animals (Fauna & Flora)
- Scales of endangered pangolin on sale in Hong Kong as loophole in law allows shops to cash in – but mostly to ‘people they know’ (South China Morning Post)
- Southeast Asia – Gold mine for pangolin poachers (The Asean Post)
Between November 2010 and February 2012 she was a staff writer at Daylight Online, Nigeria writing on health, fashion, and relationships. From 2010 – 2017 she worked as a freelance screen writer for ‘Nollywood’, Nigeria.
She joined AEC News Today in December 2016.
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