The unfamiliar pangolin is the biggest mammal victim of the wildlife trade

The unique and unknown Chinese pangolin is the most common mammal in international trade, and is being taken from all throughout Asia to meet the demand for use in traditional medicines and meat in China.

Pangolins are hunted for their scales – which are believed to have medicinal properties – and for their meat which is known as a delicacy in Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants.

Since 2000, a minimum of tens of thousands of animals have been traded in each year internationally, and in 2011 it was estimated that 40,000-60,000 pangolins were stolen from the wild in Vietnam alone.

Pangolins are small, docile mammals that look like small anteaters with scaly skin like a dragon.

The Cape pangolin, pictured here, could become increasingly imperiled if trade moves from Asia to Africa. Photo by: Maria Diekmann/Rare and Endangered Species Trust.

They are excellent tree climbers and swimmers and like to feed on termites and ants.

Pangolins are very well known for their signature defense trait – rolling up into a scaly ball – and they are the only mammal in the world with proper scales.

Even though pangolins look like anteaters, they are actually related to carnivores but do not have teeth and do not eat meat.

Conservation efforts in the region are mainly focused on large mammals such as elephants, tigers, lions, etc. and are ignoring the pressing issues of small mammals and low profile species like the pangolin.

Because of this, there are no adequate plans for their conservation and little is known about their role in the ecosystem.

Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) is kickstarting the first automated camera project hoping to catch pangolins on film to learn about their dens and nocturnal lifestyle.

They are hoping this research will be helpful in constructing a conservation plan for the pangolin in Nepal.

So what can we do to help?

Call on your local government to take pangolin poaching and trade issues seriously.

Refuse to spend money at restaurant or traditional medicine outlets that sell pangolin parts and derivatives.

Support pangolin conservation initiatives.

Establish safe pangolin habitats through community participation and enforced legal initiatives.

The Chinese pangolin is listed as Endangered due to a massively unsustainable, and illegal, trade in their meat and scales. This pangolin is a resident of the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. Photo courtesy of EDGE ZSL.

And finally, celebrate World Pangolin Day each year on February 16th!

Want to learn more? Read the full story here: Pity the pangolin: little-known mammal most common victim of the wildlife trade

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