This Is the Most Trafficked Mammal in the World

A rolled up pangolin
A rolled up pangolin | © Joel Alves / Shutterstock

Found in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, the pangolin is a shy, awkward creature unknown in many parts of the world. Sadly, these animals often fall victim to the flourishing illegal wildlife trade, mainly due to the belief that their scales carry healing properties.

Most recognised by their full armour of scales, pangolins are solitary mammals commonly mistaken as reptiles. When threatened, they comically roll themselves up into a perfect ball, exposing their sharp scales.

Only eight species of pangolins are found in Asia and Africa, and all range from either vulnerable to critically endangered. Four species – the black-bellied and white-bellied pangolins, the giant ground pangolin, and Temminck’s ground pangolin – live in Africa, while the Indian pangolin, the Philippine pangolin, the Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin are found in Asia.

All eight species are protected under both national and international laws, and two species (the Sunda and Chinese pangolins) are listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A pangolin hunting for ants

The plight of the pangolin

Herbal remedies and medicinal traditions fuel the illegal poaching and trade of these shy mammals. Annamiticus, an educational site about endangered species, states that between 100,000 and 210,000 pangolins were trafficked from 2011 to 2013 .

Being nocturnal and scarce, no one really knows just how many of these animals are left, but with poaching numbers being as high as they are, there can’t be too many.

In China and Vietnam, pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are used in medicinal concoctions to treat everything from asthma to arthritis. And unfortunately, the demand keeps growing.

Looking for ants

What is being done to aid conservation?

In 2016, a global agreement at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ended all legal trade of pangolins, thereby giving them full protection.

According to CITES, a total of 1,557 seizures involving an estimated 192,576 pangolins took place between 1999 and 2017. Their data also indicates that illegal trade in pangolins significantly escalated in recent years, with the majority of these seizures (approximately 94%) having taken place from 2007 onward.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) celebrated World Pangolin Day on February 17, 2018 with their Pangolin Species Identification Guide: A Rapid Assessment Tool for Field and Desk. The guide will act as a reference for law enforcement officers and aid them in identifying pangolins and pangolin parts that they may come across in the field. USAID aims to educate those fighting the war on illegal trafficking of animals, as well as the general public, to eventually ensure the protection of endangered species.

The pangolin protectors of Zimbabwe, Africa

The pangolin men of Zimbabwe really deserve an article all to themselves. As an initiative of the Tikki Hywood Foundation, a group of men have taken it upon themselves to rehabilitate captured pangolins. The animals are almost always stressed, dehydrated, starved and frightened, making the task a mountainous one. If it weren’t for the foundation and the time the volunteers put in, these animals, specifically lesser known species, would hardly stand a chance.

The public can easily get involved by donating to the Tikki Hywood Foundation, becoming sponsors, or even partnering up with them.

A rehabilitated pangolin

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