Pangolins are the world’s most heavily trafficked wild mammal. While international regulations have been imposed on the trade of these species, including protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and domestic laws are in place in many range countries, the demand for pangolin parts and products continues. Vietnam is recognized as a significant player in the trafficking of pangolins, despite the country’s ban on trade and consumption. Much of this growing demand is fueled by the belief that pangolin scales possess healing properties, making them a prime ingredient in Traditional Medicine products. This exploitation is now threatening the survival of all eight pangolin species.
Most research and conservation interventions addressing this issue to date have focused on consumer demand for medicinal pangolin products. However, Traditional Medicine (TM) practitioners are key players in the prescription and consumption of these products. They are pivotal decision-makers and influencers when it comes to determining suitable treatments and vouching for the efficacy of certain medications. We worked with our partners, WildAid and Choice, to gain a better understanding of the behaviors and motives of Traditional Medicine practitioners in Vietnam. This included those who may use pangolin-based medications to treat a variety of ailments to support WildAid and Choice’s ongoing campaigns to reduce demand and change behavior of the consumption and usage of wildlife products in Traditional Medicine. We conducted a pilot study to survey Vietnamese practitioners in Hue City, Thừa Thiên Huế
province about their behaviors and perceptions regarding the usage and effectiveness of pangolin products, as well as openness to exploring more sustainable alternatives. We also designed and executed a workshop in Thừa Thiên Huế province to strengthen multilateral coordination for stopping and restricting the use of wildlife products in Traditional Medicine.
The results of this project provide a window into the intricate relationship between Traditional Medicine practitioners and pangolin product use in Vietnam. It also highlights the need for continued targeted interventions with practitioners to reduce demand for pangolin products, the potential for the prescription of alternative wildlife-friendly medicinal products with improved education and guidance about sustainable alternatives, and the promise of a new unified voice and network of Vietnamese practitioners who call for the protection of pangolins and other endangered species. Urgent action is needed to improve the balance between a valued cultural practice and the conservation of one of the planet’s most threatened animals.
The EWCL WildAid team secured funding from the Pangolin Crisis Fund and the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund to conduct our survey and workshop in Vietnam, as well as corresponding outreach activities. Proposed and realized outcomes are outlined below:
- New understanding, awareness, and knowledge around practitioner use of wildlife products (specifically pangolin products), beliefs, and openness to alternatives in Traditional Medicine practices in Vietnam.
- Increased opportunities for designing behavior change campaigns based on the knowledge gained of perceptions, motivations, and usage of pangolin products in Traditional Medicine.
- A replicable survey format with accompanying materials that can be used to survey Traditional Medicine practitioners in other provinces and cities of Vietnam, outside of the Thừa Thiên Huế province.
- A replicable workshop format with accompanying materials that can be applied for future Traditional Medicine outreach and training across Vietnam.
- Continued value in seeing WildAid and Choice as partners and thought leaders in driving behavioral change of Traditional Medicine practitioner preference for sustainable alternatives to wildlife products.
- Continued creation of a network of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine practitioners' voices to partner with who call for the protection of pangolins and other endangered species.
- Increased numbers of Traditional Medicine practitioners actively calling for a reduction and end to the usage of wildlife parts in their practice.
- External Report - Pangolins and the Practitioner Perspective: A Case Study on Traditional Medicine in Vietnam
- This serves as our public-facing final report on the results of our study, which has been shared on WildAid’s website and is publicly accessible.
- Print-friendly and digital-friendly versions are both available.
- Final Pre-Campaign Strategy Report - Pangolin Usage Among Practitioners in Vietnam
- This strategy report is for WildAid and Choice’s internal use and details the goals and results of our study and findings, culminating in a pre-campaign behavior change framework to help inform future targeted campaign tactics. It includes an extensive appendix with all of our resources, templates, etc.
- Blog - Traditional Medicine in Vietnam and Pangolins: The Effort to Understand Practitioners and Save The Most Trafficked Mammal on Earth
- This blog was published on WildAid’s website alongside our external report to promote the key findings and significance of this study.
- Social Media Graphics and Posts - to use on WildAid and Choice social media platforms
- Interviews - videos of three key practitioners to share on WildAid and Choice’s Vietnam-focused platforms.
The interviewed practitioners leverage their influence and “peer voice” regarding their opinions and experiences on the usage of wildlife products in Traditional Medicine, openness to alternatives, and what a sustainable future for Traditional Medicine looks like to them.
- "Pledge for Wildlife" - a commitment from Traditional Medicine practitioners
- 73% of practitioners who participated in our workshop signed on to this pledge committing to stopping the use and purchase of medicinal formulas derived from wild animals in the treatment of patients, using sustainable and plant-based alternatives when possible, and promoting wildlife protection among the Traditional Medicine community.
WildAid inspires change and empowers the world to protect wildlife and vital habitats from critical threats including illegal wildlife trafficking, climate change, and illegal fishing. WildAid delivers impact at scale in two distinct ways: 1) creating innovative communications campaigns that inspire millions of people in China, South East Asia, Africa, and the U.S. to protect endangered wildlife and reduce climate impacts, and 2) strengthening effective ocean enforcement of priority marine areas including marine protected areas, coastal fisheries, coral reefs, and blue carbon habitats with government, NGO, and community partners in 16 countries around the globe.
WildAid operates in Vietnam through Choice, a locally-led organization whose mission is to promote environmental conservation through education and creative communications that encourage behavioral change and inspire the Vietnamese community to take action, with a focus on tackling climate change, wildlife trade, and pollution.
Coverage of the workshop:
- Giao duc and Thoi dai (Say no to using wild animals in traditional medicine) - August 11, 2023
- Thua Thien Hue Online: Limit the use of wildlife products in traditional medicine - August 11, 2023
- TRT channel: News Program - evening of August 11, 2023 (Friday) (from min 22:08)
How to Help
Traditional Medicine has been and always will be an important part of the history and culture of Vietnam. However, the legal and illegal use of wildlife products has unfortunately become a major driver for the risk of extinction for many wild species, pangolins included. The continued pangolin poaching crisis and prevalent perceptions about the effectiveness of pangolin products held by Traditional Medicine practitioners and consumers alike serve as a wake-up call for urgent action to protect this endangered animal.