Which animal has it worst in the world of animal trafficking? Elephants and rhinos get most of the attention, but the highest-trafficked mammal is the pangolin, which resides in Asia and Africa.
Looking at the pangolin, you’d think of a cross between a pinecone and a badger. This “walking artichoke” is a fiercely adorable and determined creature just as important as an elephant or rhino.
Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in both China and Vietnam, and their scales are also in high demand in many countries. As a result, greedy poachers can earn a high profit from taking pangolins from their wild habitat and butchering them.
Many people don’t know the pangolin exists, which creates a knowledge gap interfering with the protection of the pangolin population across the world. Experts and conservationists rush to educate the public and governments on the existence of pangolins. Meanwhile, the threat of extinction escalates to near certainty.
When dire conservation needs arise, only then does the international community take action. Experts now warn the pangolin will be extinct within our lifetimes if the illegal trade continues at the current pace. Will the international community step up to save pangolins, or ignore their conservation needs?
I believe there should be a law that protects the species from any form of poaching, hunting, trade or pet ownership across international borders. Cruelty toward wildlife pervades in society, to the endangerment of biodiversity.
The Trouble With Capturing Pangolin Poachers and Traders
Humans illegally poached and traded more than a million pangolins in the last decade — more than elephants and rhinos combined. Many countries enact laws that protect pangolins, but punish lawbreakers with light fines. Lack of enforcement of these laws continues to harm the pangolin population.
Traders shifted to the African pangolin population to source parts for purchases as Asian species dramatically decreased. The African species faced increasing pressure from regional and local demand for traditional uses and bush meat.
Scale number and size commonly help identify living and dead pangolin specimens when authorities conduct checks. Enforcement of anti-poaching and anti-trading laws grew difficult to conduct, due to the trading of the small non-living meat and scale parts. Anything governments can do to cultivate a culture of unsustainable illegal trade will benefit endangered pangolins. Poachers and traders will continue to find a way around capture, but the lawbreakers eventually get caught. However, these criminals appear willing to face jail time.
In traditional Chinese medicine, lore states a pangolin’s scales cure cancer. This year, the Chinese government seized 12 tons of pangolin scales in Shenzhen. This discovery set a new record for the largest seizure of endangered pangolin parts. The hoard represents the butchering of 20,000 to 30,000 individual pangolins.
Positive Moves for Pangolin Preservation
The international community has stepped up to help pangolins in recent years. The International Fund for Animal Welfare put forward a petition to classify the eight pangolin species as endangered per the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in July 2015.
Thankfully, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) determined to take action to prevent the abuse of this vulnerable species — under international law, commercially trading the pangolin is now banned. More than 180 nations in attendance at the CITES 17th Conference of the Parties in South Africa in September 2016 voted to move pangolins from Appendix II to Appendix I. The decision shifted the status of all eight pangolin species from “threatened” to “endangered” under the ESA.
The Indonesian government opposed raising protection for two pangolin species, expressing interest in farming the species along with Uganda and China. Is it more ethical to farm pangolins? Does this successfully detract business from the illegal poaching and trading of pangolins in the wild? Unfortunately, pangolins rarely survive life in captivity, much less being bred.
Indonesia’s disapproval triggered a vote on trade ban proposals for two of the four Asian species. One hundred and fourteen governments voted in favor of the proposals, with Indonesia against and five countries abstaining.
The responsibility to enforce the laws approved by CITES falls on individual countries. Some avoid enacting the mandated measures, or impose light punishments. International encouragement must push these governments to step up and do their parts.
Pangolins’ official classification as an endangered species provides a higher call to action for governments to protect them. The ESA listing raises the need and action for protection in international eyes. Lawbreakers continue to poach and trade pangolins. The call to action must shift to swift and final decisiveness as an international movement to save pangolins from extinction. International governments must enact a full-spectrum protection law that protects all pangolin species from any form of poaching, hunting, trade or pet ownership.
Cloning Provides a Possible Pangolin Conservation Solution
Failure to enact an international protection law on pangolins opens the quandary to alternative conservation ideas. Though cloning technology is still developing, is cloning to save biodiversity an ethical decision? Could cloning the pangolin species save the population from extinction?
Cloning provides one possible solution to pangolin conservation. Assuming all goes well with successfully cloning pangolins, the opportunity to conserve the species offers long-term hope for preserving and cultivating biodiversity.
However, the species may not survive in the wild, even if successfully cloned pangolins lived several years into adulthood. Created in captivity, what chances do cloned species have to survive, and where would they go? Consider tigers as an example: Each tiger needs 25,000 acres of their natural environment, yet farmers consume more than 93 percent of their habitat. The same quandary exists for pangolins if cloned.
Even if successful, cloning will not solve the problem of illegal pangolin poaching or trading. Our global society must directly address this issue by creating a pangolin protection law. I urge the international community to reject all form of poaching, hunting, trade or pet ownership by enacting a full-spectrum protection law.
Let no illegal act go unpunished or ignored. The time to protect the pangolin population is now.