Finally, some good news for the besieged animal kingdom. The 182 nations present at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) unanimously agreed on a total ban on the international trade of all species of pangolin, an animal that has suffered greatly at the hands of the frequently illegal practice.
When the vote was announced, cheers and applause erupted at the summit in Johannesburg. If this ban is now enforced, it could signal the death knell for what has been referred to as a “$20 billion-a-year criminal enterprise.”
“This decision will help give pangolins a fighting chance,” said Dr Susan Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society, as reported by The Guardian. “The world is standing up for the little guy with this pivotal decision. These species need extra protection and now they will get it.”
Pangolins are solitary animals that spend most of their time wandering around at night. Four species live in Africa, and another four live in Asia. They all have keratin-composed scale armor, and like hedgehogs, they can curl up into a ball when threatened. Using a honed sense of smell, they find and eat up a variety of insects, and when they’re sleepy, they nestle up in burrows or hollow trees.
All of them are already protected under numerous national and international laws, but this appears to have done very little to keep them safe. Prolific, overzealous hunting by humans that consider them as bushmeat or sources of medicine has severely reduced their population numbers.
Hang in there, little guy. Foto Mous/Shutterstock
Habitat destruction via deforestation has also exacerbated things, but illegal trade remains the primary problem, and it goes back a long way. In 1820, England’s King George III was presented with a suit of armor comprised entirely of pangolin scales.
Demand has risen over the centuries to the point wherein the pangolin has become the world’s most trafficked animal, and two species – the Chinese and Malayan pangolins – are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Critically Endangered. Like the Eastern gorilla, they are one step away from being extinct in the wild. Two others are listed as Endangered, and the other two are Vulnerable.
Nowadays, huge quantities of pangolin parts have been found in illegal shipments across the world. In a particularly horrific incident recently, a shipment from Indonesia was found to contain a hidden cache of frozen pangolins weighing 12.7 tonnes (14 tons). More than a million wild pangolins have been needlessly slaughtered in the last decade alone.
In addition to the total ban, the US and Vietnam also successfully proposed to transfer the Critically Endangered Malayan and Chinese pangolins from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I, the strictest level of protection possible. The move will encourage affected nations to pursue tougher anti-hunting measures and powerful punitive initiatives.