The pangolin, a strange-looking animal resembling a pine cone that is highly sought after for Chinese medicine, has finally received the highest level of protection against illegal trading by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The move means that international trade of any variety of pangolin is completely banned.
The scaly animal—which curls up into a tight ball when frightened—is the most highly traded wild mammal in the world. More than 10,000 pangolins are traded every year, 50 times the numbers of tigers traded annually. Pangolins, which have roamed the earth for 80 million years, are dying out in India. 4.3 tonnes of pangolin scales were seized in India in the last five years. Africa is another major source of pangolins, where it is eaten in many parts as bush meat.
The craze for pangolins is because of insatiable demand from China, which uses pangolin parts in traditional medicine. In China alone, 200,000 pangolins were estimated to be killed between 2011 and 2013. Pangolin fetuses in particular are in high demand, as they are believed to enhance virility. Pangolin blood and body parts can be used to treat asthma, cancer, and reproductive problems in traditional Chinese medicine.
Unlike ivory or tiger pelts, which are easily recognizable, pangolins are usually killed, skinned, and frozen before being sold. That makes it harder for customs to tell them apart from fish and snakes, which are often mixed with pangolins as cover.