Pangolins, which can be found in Asia and Africa, have been called the “world’s most trafficked mammal”.
Following a landslide vote, all eight species of pangolin will now be listed under CITES Appendix I, which bans commercial trade and represents the highest level of protection available under international law. The vote on the proposal to transfer the four Asian pangolin species was 114 to 1 in favour, while the vote to move the four African species was unanimous.
Pangolins, which can be found in Asia and Africa, have been called the “world’s most trafficked mammal,” and consensus has been building amongst the conservation community that it was time for such a move.
The clearest sign of that came earlier this month during the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. IUCN members — which include 217 government agencies, more than 1,000 civil society organisations from over 160 countries and 15,000-plus volunteer experts in 185 countries — voted to approve a motion in support of transferring all eight pangolin species from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I “in order to contribute to the conservation and sustainability of wild populations through control of the international trade in pangolins and their parts and products.”
More than one million pangolins were taken from the wild over the past decade, according to a recent report by San Francisco-based NGO WildAid. The increased trade in pangolins is having drastic consequences for their population numbers. In 2008, just two of the eight pangolin species were listed on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, but today all eight appear on the list.
The Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica) and the Chinese Pangolin (M. pentadactyla), which were classified as endangered eight years ago, are currently listed as ‘critically endangered’. The Indian Pangolin (M. crassicaudata) and the Philippine Pangolin (M. culionensis), meanwhile, are now listed as Endangered and all four African species — the Black-bellied Pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), the White-bellied Pangolin (P. tricuspis), the Giant Ground Pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) and Temminck’s Ground Pangolin (S. temminckii) — are listed as Vulnerable.
Hunting and poaching are the primary threats to pangolins. The majority of the whole pangolins and pangolin parts that are trafficked end up in China and Vietnam, where pangolin meat is considered not just a delicacy but also a status symbol by the countries’ rapidly growing middle classes. Pangolin scales are also much in demand, as they are ground into powder and used to treat rheumatism, skin disorders and infections despite there being no scientific evidence to support the curative properties of pangolin products.
Pangolins have been protected under CITES Appendix II for years, as well as by many nations’ domestic laws. US, for instance, which has emerged as a key transshipment point in the illegal trade of pangolins, confiscated more than 26,000 pangolin products between 2004 and 2013, WildAid reported.
But despite seizures of illegally traded pangolins — from US to Indonesia and Myanmar and elsewhere — “the status quo clearly isn’t working, which is why today’s decision is so critical,” according to Elly Pepper, deputy director of the Natural Resources Defence Council’s wildlife trade initiative.
“Pangolin scales are made of the same stuff as your fingernails — contrary to the belief of some, they hold no medicinal value,” Pepper said in a statement. “These vulnerable, elusive creatures must be protected immediately if we hope to reverse their astronomical declines of up to 90%. This listing will not only eradicate legal trade in pangolins, but will also reduce the illegal trade.”