Pangolins, the only mammals to be covered in scales, are to get extra protection after one million of them were poached from the wild over the past ten years. If this little-known, slow-moving nocturnal animal does not get urgent help from us, we will drive it to extinction.
Pangolins have one massive enemy – humans – specifically poachers who catch them and sell them to vendors of traditional Chinese medicines. Pangolin scales, according to ancient Chinese tradition, have several curative properties, such as helping treat palsy, lactation problems, excessive nervousness, skin diseases, liver problems, and hysterical crying – none of which has been scientifically tested.
The scales are dried and roasted by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners or vendors. Pangolin meat is also sold for human consumption. As explained in the image below, in many parts of Africa, the creature is hunted for its alleged magical powers.
The African Wildlife Foundation says: “Pangolins are believed to possess magic or charms. When mixed with bark from certain trees, the scales are thought to neutralize witchcraft and evil spirits. If buried near a man’s door, they are said to give an interested woman power over him. Sometimes the scales are burned to keep lions and other wild animals away.” (Image: awf.org)
At the CITES meeting in South Africa, the scaly anteater-type creature, which has been driven to the edge of extinction, has gained extra protection. The new vote completely bans all types of commercial sales of the pangolin.
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is a global agreement between governments – its aim is to make sure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not drive them to extinction.
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Pangolins are small-to-medium size, scale-covered mammals that are found in parts of Asia and Africa. There are eight species in total – four in Africa and four in Asia.
Pangolins are insect-eaters (insectivorous), and use their long sticky tongues and powerful claws to find and capture termites and ants.
Did you know that pangolins are officially the most-trafficked animal in the world? According to the Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation: “As they have no defence against humans, aside from rolling themselves into a ball, poachers can simply pick them up and bag them without any resistance. This makes them vulnerable beyond belief.” (Image: wildheartwildlifefoundation.org)
The creature is primarily nocturnal and solitary. It sleeps in tree hollows or burrows during the daytime.
According to IFAW:
“Pangolin populations in China and Viet Nam have been decimated by poaching, and in some areas, are considered commercially extinct. Both species with ranges in those countries are rated Critically Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.”
In response to rapidly-declining numbers, poachers and smugglers are now sourcing the animals from other parts of Southeast Asia as well as the Indian subcontinent to satisfy demand, which comes mainly from China and Viet Nam.
Customs authorities regularly seize shipments containing tons of scales and frozen pangolin meat.
Pangolins also hunted in Africa
As the Asian pangolin populations plummet, demand has moved towards the four African species. Over the past few years, the number of seizures of shipments containing tons of African pangolin scales destined for Asia have increased dramatically.
.@CITES #CoP17 agrees in Committee to move all 8 species of #pangolins, the most trafficked mammal, in Appendix I for stronger protection pic.twitter.com/pQ2jRaMnAE
— CITES (@CITES) September 28, 2016
Regarding the number of pangolins that have been taken from the wild by poachers, IFAW writes:
“Over one million pangolins have been taken from the wild and illegally traded in the past decade. Considering that pangolins are slow growing mammals, the rate at which they are being killed is wholly unsustainable and could result in the loss of entire populations within the next generation.”
Ban on pangolin trade
In South Africa, CITES delegates voted to ban trade in the pangolin. Before this vote, trade was controlled but not completely banned.