Researchers believe that the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China was ground zero for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Until its closure, numerous wildlife species were kept there, tightly crowded in cages – a rich breeding ground for pathogens.
Pangolins sold there are believed to have been an intermediate host for the virus, which originated in bats.
Pangolin poaching and smuggling is a lucrative business, with Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants willing to pay up to $400 for a kilo of pangolin meat.
Pangolins have become so rare in the wild that coming across one is not unlike finding a winning lottery ticket for villagers in remote corners of Asia.
Traffickers are frequently arrested while shipping hundreds of live animals or pangolin scales by the ton, but the true magnitude of the trade remains in the dark.
Eight different pangolin species exist in Asia and Africa.
All four Asian species are already on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and pressure on the African species is mounting.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has published an interactive map highlighting the international nature of the pangolin trade.
The survival of the pangolin is in the hands of the Chinese and Vietnamese governments – only they can pass and enforce stricter laws to curb hunting and shut down trafficking.
As endangered wildlife, pangolins have not received the attention they deserve, even though all eight species of the scaly creature are on the Red List. The situation is most dire for the critically endangered Chinese and Sunda pangolins, which could become extinct within the next fifteen years.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has seen the need to establish a specialist group dedicated to preserving the animal.
Hunting and illegal trade are the main forces driving the toothless insectivores to extinction – no other mammal is subject to such extensive smuggling.
The pangolin’s scales – which consist of keratin, the same material as human fingernails – are believed to have beneficial properties in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine.
The ills they supposedly cure include “excessive nervousness and hysterical crying in children, women possessed by devils and ogres, malarial fever and deafness” (Nature 141, 72-72, 08 January 1938).
Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and often among the most costly dishes on restaurant menus.
According to some estimates, hunters have killed one million pangolins over the last ten years. Between 2011 and 2013 alone, 23,400 illegally traded animals were confiscated.
Please call on Chinese and Vietnamese policymakers to stop standing by idly while the pangolin is hunted to extinction.
And I mean…Pangolins have been around for at least 47 million years.
This could be over soon.
The four Asian species are almost extinct.
The meat is considered a delicacy, the scales are used as talismans and, above all, for therapeutic purposes.
And according to local ritual customs, they are real all-rounders for stomach problems, asthma, rheumatism, inflammation, menstrual problems or even blood cancer.
Even the potency is said to increase the scales.
The stupid thing about it is that, like rhinoceros horn and human nails, they consist exclusively of keratin.
But tragically, it’s also a major destination for the global, illegal and devastatingly efficient wildlife trade, with up to 2.7 million pangolins poached each year.
International trade in pangolins or their scales has been banned under the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species since 2017.
In China, there were signs of change.
International trade in all Asian pangolins was banned in 2000.
While it’s a positive move, but many experts remain skeptical that these measures will make a difference.
Despite all measures, illegal trade of pangolin continues to be on the top of illegal wildlife crime around the world.
Clearly, measures to combat illicit trade are not enough.
In order to better protect the animals, measures must be taken along the entire supply chain.
Because so far, illegal traders in Africa and Asia have only rarely been arrested and if they are, then the majority of cases do not even go to court.
One speaks of well-equipped criminal syndicates.
Paying for, collecting and transporting large volumes of pangolin products requires significant upfront investment and coordination.
It also likely means the smugglers don’t have to worry about being intercepted by law enforcement as they transport tens of millions of dollars’ worth of shipments weighing tons.
Therefore: it is essential that those caught smuggling pangolin parts are properly punished.
And that on an international level.
My best regards to all, Venus