Beijing -- China’s move to strengthen protections for the Chinese pangolin could offer the world’s most trafficked mammal an important respite from its illegal trade, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said today. The decision comes at a time when the global COVID-19 pandemic has brought the risks of consuming such wildlife, often sold in illegal and unregulated markets, into sharp focus.
On Friday June 5th, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration announced that it is upgrading the protection of native Chinese pangolins from second class to first class, the same protection level as the giant panda. The move is strongly welcomed by WWF which has been advocating for strengthening pangolin protection measures for several years.
Pangolins have been in the spotlight in recent months due to several research studies which suggest they may have transmitted COVID-19 from bats to humans because they harbor coronaviruses similar to the one which started the present global health pandemic. However, these links have not been proven conclusively.
Margaret Kinnaird, Global Wildlife Practice Leader, WWF, said, ''Pangolins are among the most trafficked mammals in the world with an estimated 195,000 pangolins trafficked in 2019 alone. Cracking down on the illegal wildlife trade doesn’t just protect species, it helps safeguard people’s well-being and lives. As the demand for pangolin products continues unabated, the Chinese government's decision to increase the protection status of pangolins is a significant milestone in addressing illegal trafficking of wildlife species. There is also an urgent need for global concerted action to ensure any high-risk trade and sale of wildlife is properly regulated.”
The decision to upgrade the protection level of the Chinese pangolin means that all eight species are now covered under first class protection in China, which is expected to strengthen the focus on pangolin monitoring, rescue and conservation in China. The upgrade is also expected to help ensure stricter enforcement of wildlife laws and penalties to address the rampant illegal trade and poaching of pangolins.
Pangolins are highly prized for their meat and unique scales. The announcement also provides an impetus to the ongoing efforts to increase public awareness on the need for pangolin protection.
“No culture or tradition is worth the extinction of an entire species. Endangered species, whether used for food or medicine, whether effective or not, should no longer be used because they are endangered or on the verge of extinction,” said Zhou Fei, Chief Program Officer of WWF-China. “The ecosystem values of pangolins are much more than the value of their meat or scales. There is a long way to go in protecting them, but we can start from rejecting the consumption of products made from them.”
Populations of Asian pangolins are estimated to have declined by up to 80 percent in the last 10 years with the Chinese, Malay and the Philippine pangolins among the critically endangered pangolin species on the IUCN Red List.