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Hungry Asia is Eating Pangolins Into Extinction

Jul 30, 2014 02:50 PM EDT
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Pangolin
Pangolins are insect-eating mammals native to Asia that resemble a cross between an armadillo and an artichoke. However, these unusual critters have recently been identified as exceptionally vulnerable and "critically endangered," largely due to a little known illegal trade that is treating Pangolin meat as a high-end delicacy.
(Photo : Wildlife Alliance)

Pangolins are insect-eating mammals that resemble a cross between an armadillo and an artichoke. However, these unusual critters have recently been identified as exceptionally vulnerable and "critically endangered," largely due to a little known illegal trade that is treating Pangolin meat as a high-end delicacy.

As of this week, all eight species of pangolins across the world were labeled at least "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC), adding them to the group's Red List of Threatened Species.

Asian pangolins, which consists of four species, are considered in the most immediate danger. The Indian and Philippine pangolin has been officially listed as an endangered species, while Chinese and Sunda species of the animal have been listed as "critically endangered" - in dire need of protection.

On Thursday, the IUCN released a new plan to address this dire need, asking specifically for cooperation from the Chinese and Vietnamese governments.

Jonathan Baillie, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group and Conservation Programme, explained that while there is a legal trade of pangolin scales - used in traditional medicines - in these countries, the illegal trade of the animal's meat is swelling scale supplies, leaving a vital clue that can help track and shut down slaughter of the protected species.

"In the 21st Century we really should not be eating species to extinction - there is simply no excuse for allowing this illegal trade to continue," he said.

"A vital first step [in our global strategy] is for the Chinese and Vietnamese governments to conduct an inventory of their pangolin scale stocks and make this publically available to prove that wild-caught pangolins are no longer supplying the commercial trade," Dan Challender, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group, added.

While exact numbers are difficult to track, the pangolin is suspected to be one of the most trafficked mammals in the world. Just last year, 400 boxes containing nearly 2000 dressed pangolin carcasses was seized from the F/V Min Long Yu, a Chinese fishing vessel that had run aground on the Tubbataha Reefs, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) reported.

This was a grisly reminder on how intense pangolin poaching is, and how little it is controlled.

WWF Philippines Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said that day that he believes the best way to protect pangolins is not to target the trade, but instead target the people.

"When the buying stops, the killing will, too," he said.

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