Pangolin searching for ants

Photo by: 2630ben


Pangolins, World's Most Trafficked Animal, May Finally Be Safe

By: Lucy Sherriff

China is removing one of the world’s most trafficked animals, the pangolin, from its list of animals used for traditional medicine.

July 21, 2020

Activists have long been calling for an end to pangolins being trafficked. Tens of thousands are poached every year, and one million pangolins are believed to have been trafficked between 2000 and 2013 alone. Pangolins are mammals, despite being covered in scales, and grow to around the size of a house cat.



Most trafficked animal - The Pangolin

Photo by: Daniel Haesslich

Daniel Haesslich

They use those scales to protect themselves from predators in the wild, but in Asia, these same scales are coveted for medicine. Their scales are made of keratin, the same material found in fingernails, rhino horns, and traditional Chinese medicine.

In China, they are used in medicine as they are believed to improve blood circulation and reduce inflammation. “The animal itself is eaten, but a greater danger arises from the belief that the scales have medicinal value. Fresh scales are never used--but dried scales can be roasted with earth of oyster shells, ashed, or cooked in oil, butter, vinegar, boy's urine to cure a variety of ills,” according to a scientific study in Nature, which was published as far back as 1938. “Amongst these [ills] are excessive nervousness and hysterical crying in children, women possessed by devils and ogres, malarial fever, and deafness.”



Officers show pangolin scales seized from poachers at the the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BBKSDA) Riau office in Pekanbaru, Riau Province , Indonesia, on June 12, 2020. Indonesia authorities confiscated 14 Kilograms pangolins Scales (Manis Javanica) from ilegal trade.

Photo by: NurPhoto


Officers show pangolin scales seized from poachers at the the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BBKSDA) Riau office in Pekanbaru, Riau Province , Indonesia, on June 12, 2020. Indonesia authorities confiscated 14 Kilograms pangolins Scales (Manis Javanica) from ilegal trade.

Last year, authorities seized more than 130 tons of pangolin-related products, a figure believed to represent as many as 400,000 of the animals, according to WildAid conservation group. There are eight species of pangolin found across Asia and Africa. Three of those are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature: the Chinese pangolin, the Philippine pangolin, and the Sunda pangolin. The remaining five are listed as either vulnerable or endangered.

Now, three species – the Chinese, Suna, and Indian pangolins – have been afforded the same protection in China as the Giant Panda and have been upgraded from Class II to the highest Class I protection. There's a penalty of 10 imprisonment for anyone caught hunting, killing, smuggling or trading them.



Photo by: Fabian von Poser

Fabian von Poser

The announcement was made in June and was so monumental that the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement encouraging China to “take similar steps to respond to other endangered species and shut down high risk wildlife wet markets.” The Chinese government has also announced plans to restore the dwindling populations by ramping up field patrols and pushing habitat restoration efforts.

“China moved very quickly to close live wildlife markets and it is great news that they have now given their pangolins the same protected status as the panda,” said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. “We hope this accelerates an end to legal sales of pangolin scales as soon as possible.”

The conservation group also highlighted how the Covid-19 pandemic has placed a spotlight on the illegal trade in pangolins and flagged how some scientists have found a similar coronavirus strain in Sunda pangolins. “Whether pangolins prove to be the vector species in Covid-19 or not,” Knights adds, “trading and consuming them imposes a significant risk of the introduction of a new disease and we should move to eliminate this risk as quickly as possible.”

Next Up

Giant Pandas are No Longer Endangered

After decades of work trying to save the giant panda, Chinese officials have announced the species is no longer endangered.

10 Celebrities Who Are Making a Difference in Australia

With wildfires still blazing through NSW, Australia, celebrities have stepped in to donate what they can to help make a difference.

Locust Swarms Plague India

With New Delhi, India on high alert after a nearby swarm of locusts, this terrifying natural phenomenon is enabled by ever-changing climate conditions and unique species behaviors.

New Reef Discovery in Australia is a Once in a Century Find

Scientists have studied this species-rich ecosystem for more than 100 years, so the discovery of a towering 1,600 foot coral reef is one of the great finds of the century.

Rediscovered in Ocean's Twilight Zone: the Short-Nosed Sea Snake

The short-nosed sea snake was recently rediscovered in the ocean’s twilight zone, 200 feet below the surface. Scientists are furthering their research with genetic testing.

Wild Animals Explore City Streets Amid Pandemic

In 2020 anything is possible, and the animals are taking back the streets.

Clear Skies During Lockdown is a Pandemic Upside

With almost all of the world under lockdown, cars are off the roads and the smog is disappearing in some of the planet’s most polluted atmospheres.

How Endangered Monkeys Swing Over Traffic Jams in India

Monkeys get to where the trees are greener on the other side

Scientists in Antarctica Get the Giggles from Penguin Waste

King penguin poop is causing some issues for scientists in Antarctica. This flightless bird's guano releases nitrous oxide, a gas that is known commonly as laughing gas.

Murder Hornets Invade the US

For my next trick, says 2020, may I introduce you to… Murder Hornets! Spotted in the Pacific Northwest for the first time, these giant hornets put our ecosystem at risk.