Illegally trafficked for their scales, the Pangolin ranks as the number one most unlawfully trafficked animal, putting the species in imminent jeopardy of extinction.
The use of the scales dates back to roughly 1820 in Asia, where the keratin flakes were used as armor coating. Aside from protein, additional uses of the animal were medicinal. In Chinese culture, drying the scales followed by roasting is believed to cure various ailments such as skin disease, infection, or paralysis.
Over decades, this once flourishing species began to dwindle in numbers and was placed on the endangered species list in November 2010 by the Zoological Society of London. In 2016, the 8 different sub-species of Pangolin were given the highest level of protection by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, including against trafficking. The species is currently listed under Appendix 1 of CITES: Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.
Despite the efforts to conserve the species, Pangolin trafficking is still active. Just last year, 12 tons of dried Pangolin scales were confiscated in China in an “empty” shipping container. According to the Maritime Executive, officials estimate 20,000 Pangolins were killed to achieve the amount found. The scales were believed meant to enter the Chinese Black Market, where the use of Pangolin for medicine is still widely prominent.
Organizations such as WWF and the IAFW are currently trying to counter the poaching efforts for this endangered animal. Unfortunately, however, until stronger international laws are achieved, these scaly critters will continue to need advocates to fend against what their natural armor cannot.