This relatively unknown animal is one of the most coveted, poached and trafficked mammals in the world, and is at risk of becoming extinct before the world even realises its existence. Meet the pangolin, the most trafficked mammal you’ve never heard of.
Meet The Most Trafficked Mammal in the World: The Pangolin
By Rachel Lee
Relatively small in size and gentle in nature, the pangolin is endemic to Africa and Asia. There are eight species of pangolin, and, according to the IUCN Red List, every single species are experiencing decreasing populations.
With a diet of ants and termites, it would be understandable to confuse this species with an ant-eater, however, researchers have determined the pangolin’s evolution to be the sole mammal species that is completely covered in scales and has evolved over approximately 80 billion years.
The scale covered coat of the pangolin protects the species from predation by lions and tigers, but unfortunately, not from humans. When confronted by danger, the pangolin curls up into a tight ball which is impenetrable by animals that may be looking for a meal. Additionally, the pangolin can elicit a strong and foul odour to deter predators from their attack. However, these defence mechanisms have proved futile in defending this beautiful creature from poachers, who have been illegally trading the animals as pets, as well as for their alleged medicinal value in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“The pangolin possesses none of the cachet of better-known animals that are hot on the international black market. It lacks the tiger’s grace, the rhino’s brute strength. If the pangolin went to high school, it would be the drama geek — elusive, nocturnal, rarely appreciated and barely understood. When it’s frightened, it actually curls up into a roly-poly ball.” – John D. Sutter, CNN.
What is Wildlife Trafficking?
Wildlife trade refers to the commerce of products that are derived from non-domesticated animals or plants usually extracted from their natural environment or raised under controlled conditions. It can involve the trade of living or dead individuals, tissues such as skins, bones or meat, or other products
Wildlife trafficking (or, illegal wildlife trade) is an industry economically comparable to the illegal drug scene. Animals are collected from the wild and traded on the illegal market as pets, or for their value as meat products, souvenirs (such as taxidermy animals) and traditional medicines. This practice is contributing directly to the extinction of animals worldwide and is wreaking havoc among pangolin populations.
The Rise of the Illegal Pangolin Trade
The unfounded belief that pangolin flesh, scales, and fetuses are delicacies and/or have medicinal benefits (in Traditional Chinese Medicine) has had catastrophic consequences for the species, with all four species of Asian pangolin being listed as either endangered or critically endangered. As Asian pangolin species become scarcer, wildlife traffickers are turning toward African pangolin species for illegal markets.
In 2014, the BBC reported that a whole pangolin was worth approximately $1,000 and a kilogram of scales worth $600 (approximately equal to the illegal ivory trade per kilo), though these prices continue to rise as pangolin populations plummet. Pangolin scales are used specifically for traditional medicine and cultural ceremonies and are comprised of keratin (which is the same substance that forms our hair and fingernails, and ironically, is why the rhino horn is so coveted).
In 2011, reports suggested that up to 60,000 Pangolins were illegally traded and in 2015, this increased to approximately 100,000. With the ability to only have one offspring at this year, the Pangolin is doomed to face obliteration at an astronomic rate.
A war against humans is a battle that the pangolin cannot win. With its gentle and shy nature and an inability to provide defence against those determined to destroy the species, it is up to us to protect this species before it is too late.
How can we help save the Pangolin from extinction?
1) Spread the word by sharing on social media. Talk about this important issue with your friends.
2) Sign petitions (click here) and support foundations who are impacting policy-making and assisting law enforcement agencies to stop the poaching of these amazing creatures.
3) When overseas, instead of purchasing souvenirs made out of animal parts, consider alternatives that contribute to the conservation of a species or their habitat.
4) Celebrate World Pangolin Day
5) Sign up for our newsletter here