An Endangered Pangolin Has Been Taken Hostage By Armed Rebels

Conservationists in DR Congo are negotiating the release of the rare giant ground pangolin after it was seized by an armed group who are sending proof of life photos and asking for a ransom.
Dipo Faloyin
London, GB
Close up view of a wild endangered Pangolin​.
Close up view of a wild endangered Pangolin. Photo: Paula French via Getty Images

A rare pangolin has been taken hostage by a group of Congolese rebels, opening up a possible new front in poaching. 

The kidnappers, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern Virunga National Park, have been sending proof of life photos to conservationists in the region while demanding a ransom for the pangolin’s release. 

The incident is the latest in a series of kidnappings in eastern DRC, where dozens of rebel groups are fighting a decades-long conflict - but it’s the first involving an animal. 


In November, five Chinese nationals were kidnapped in the South Kivu province in southeastern DRC by rebel groups as a result of ongoing tensions between locals and Chinese-owned mining companies. Just a few weeks later, two Red Cross workers were similarly abducted in the region. 

A 2020 report by Human Rights Watch found that rebel groups have “kidnapped for ransom at least 170 people near the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo between April 2017 and March 2020.”

“Criminal gangs have demanded crippling ransoms from families and brutally raped scores of women and girls in Virunga National Park over the past three years,” Thomas Fessy, a senior researcher at HRW, said. “The Congolese government needs to end these gangs’ reign of terror while providing survivors – who face trauma and stigma – post-rape care and all the help they need.”

The abduction of a pangolin appears to be the first time the rebels have extended their operation to include the kidnapping of wildlife. 

Despite China’s longstanding promise to crack down on the use of pangolin scales in traditional medicines, the illegal trade has continued. As a result, pangolins, whose meat is also a delicacy, are the most trafficked non-human mammals in the world.

Conservationists are concerned that if they pay the rebels, it will only lead to more such abductions in the future. 

“This is something new and alarming,” Adams Cassinga, the founder of the wildlife charity Conserv Congo, told The Times.

“They have seen how much money is spent on conservation issues and that rare animals are prized by the international community, and they would say even more so than the poor communities who live in the same area.”