6 min read

Most People Know Nothing About The World's Most Illegally Trafficked Animal

<p> (c) Tikki Hywood Trust<span></span> </p>

For nearly a quarter century, I've worked on animal welfare and wildlife conservation issues. While there have been some constants - like the need to protect elephants, and rhinos, and whales, and bears, and lions, and tigers, and primates - I can promise you that, when I started all those years ago, I had never even heard of the pangolin!

Too many species need protection. Too many have become imperiled on our watch. Too many are slipping away.

This week, government representatives from Africa and Asia met in Vietnam for the first time to discuss threats to pangolin conservation and innovative strategies to save the species. One hundred participants from governments of pangolin range countries, academics, nongovernmental organizations, and others were represented. Born Free was there, with Gabriel Fava from Born Free Foundation (UK) and Rosalyn Morrison from Born Free USA pushing hard for strong, positive outcomes. And, by all accounts, their hard work has paid off!

Pangolins are popularly considered the most heavily illegally-traded mammal in the world: beleaguered by the wildly destructive trade in their meat, scales, blood, and fetuses, currently used in traditional medicine throughout Asia to treat skin conditions, improve blood circulation and liver function, increase fertility, and address other ailments (despite an absence of scientific evidence to back the alleged medicinal benefits).

The current assault on pangolins is profound, and experts indicate that the two most endangered pangolin species, manis pentadactyla (Chinese or Formosan pangolin) and manis javanica (Malayan or Sunda pangolin), could go extinct within 10 years if current trends continue. As these species decline, demand has started to impact the other species of pangolins, and all eight pangolin species (four in Africa and four in Asia) are now confronting the very real possibility of extinction in my lifetime.

The Born Free team reported that some working groups were "tough and contentious." But, progress was indeed made. The delegates appear committed to identifying pangolin strongholds in the wild and assessing strategies for protecting those vital lands. They explored how to fight corruption and expand enforcement capabilities to fight illegal pangolin trade, and declared that range, transit, and consumer countries must do all they can to stop poaching and illegal trade.

Our vision for this event is clear; this is a springboard toward future efforts. The outcomes must focus on positive actions to reverse pangolins' decline across their global range. Stronger pangolin conservation and increased enforcement collaboration must be associated with demand reduction initiatives in consumer countries to decrease international trade pressure. We must stop international trade in pangolins immediately.

As the Duke of Cambridge recently indicated, pangolins run "the risk of becoming extinct before most people have even heard of them." Let's adopt bold measures and act to enhance pangolin conservation now.

I often say that the importance of a meeting like this is not what happens during the event, but the minute it closes. Will promises made be forgotten? Will commitments be broken? Or, will everyone join together to, literally, save a species? We'll be watching ...

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,