Pangolins are one of the most unusual and unique animals on the planet, they also happen to be the most hunted and illegally smuggled.
In an attempt to eradicate Pangolin trafficking, a global wildlife meeting has just approved an outright ban on the sale, transportation and trade of the animal.
Pangolin’s bodies are covered with scales which are made from keratin, the same substance which human fingernails are formed with. The scales which are soft on infants, harden over time, giving the animal an otherworldly appearance and have earned it the nickname ‘the artichoke with legs‘. The animals, which feed primarily on ants and curl into a tight ball when afraid (like hedgehogs) have become incredibly sought after for their meat and scales and, as a result, a thriving black market has opened up, resulting in a depletion of numbers and a threat to the survival of the species.
The ban was announced at CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. The conference is taking place now in Johannesburg, South Africa and brings together 183 member countries who make agreements concerning animal trade. Today, the CITES convention protects over 35,000 species of animals and plants.
The pangolin certainly needs that protection. As the AP reports, the animals is poached for its meat and scales, and experts estimate that more than a million of the animals have been killed within the last ten years. Pangolins have long been used in traditional Asian medicine. As Scientific American’s John R. Platt writes, their scales are said to cure cancer and help people lose weight. But that’s not the case: Their scales are made of keratin, like rhino and antelope horns, and the substance has no medicinal properties, he reports.
The lust for pangolin scales and meat has left the animals critically endangered. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Malayan pangolin populations have declined more than 80 percent over the last 21 years, and are expected to decline by another 80 percent in the next 21-year period. Hopefully, the ban will halt this downward spiral. It prohibits trade of seven species of pangolin in the strictest terms and is expected to be ratified next week, the AP reports.