Pangolins still under global threat in 2020
Although all eight species of pangolins are banned from international trade, the "scaly anteater" population is still under deadly threats as they continue to be the world's most trafficked mammals.
Pangolin or its original Malay word "pengguling," which means "rolling up," as the mammal use it as a defense system against predators or other threats, has unique characteristics and is under very dangerous threats.
Since every third Saturday in February is observed annually to raise awareness about these unique mammals, the pangolin population is rapidly declining in Asia and Africa.
On the occasion of the World Pangolin Day on Feb. 15, Anadolu Agency correspondent compiled data from TRAFFIC, a leading NGO working globally on trade in wild animals and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on pangolins, the world's most trafficked mammal.
TRAFFIC is a leading non-governmental organization working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.
Characteristics of pangolin
The scaly anteaters are the only mammal that is covered with scales from head to toe.
The amazing animals are also known as the length of their 40-cm (16-inch) tongue which is almost longer than some pangolin species.
Their scales which are one of the main reasons for poaching the mammals, are sort of keratin, like a human fingernail and are equal to 20% of a Pangolin’s weight.
They are also predicted to eat nearly 6 million insects, including ants and termites, every month, with no teeth.
Eight extant species of pangolin are located only on the two continents; Chinese pangolin, Philippine pangolin, Sunda pangolin, Indian pangolin in Asia, White-bellied pangolin, Giant pangolin, Black-bellied pangolin and Temminck’s pangolin in Africa.
Chinese, Philippine and Sunda pangolins are listed as critically endangered, while Indian, White-bellied, Giant pangolin are endangered and Black-bellied, Temminck’s pangolins are vulnerable, according to the IUCN Red List assessments for pangolins in December.
Threats to pangolins
The primary threat to most pangolin species is illegal hunting and poaching, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Using Pangolin scales for traditional medicines is another huge threat to the species as the scales are used as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine, especially in China and Vietnam.
Scales are believed to be a cure for various disease such as heart disease, cancer and are used to help lactating women produce milk.
Consuming its meat either locally or as a luxury product is also listed as a serious threat because the mammals have been consumed as a source of protein throughout history.
Pangolin also is a victim of illegal wildlife trade for its meat and scales although international trade of pangolin has been prohibited.
Apart from these issues, habitat loss and degradation also play a negative role in the declining pangolin population.
Statistics on traffic
Although all eight species of pangolins are prohibited from international trade under CITES, more than a million pangolins were trafficked in the past decade, according to TRAFFIC.
"An average of 20 tonnes of pangolins and their parts have been trafficked internationally every year with smugglers using 27 new global trade routes annually, according to the report released by TRAFFIC and IUCN in December 2017.
Statistics indicate China was the most common destination as part of large-quantity shipments of pangolin scales while whole pangolins were mostly traded within Asia, with Indonesia seizing the largest volume.
In addition to China and Indonesia, minor shipments of pangolin body parts mainly went to the U.S. and Europe was also identified as a major transit hub, mostly for African pangolins being transported to Asia.
According to the latest biggest seizures were recorded as 11.9 tonnes of scales from a ship in Shenzen, China, in November 2017 and a staggering 23 tonnes of scales seized by Chinese Customs in December.
Despite all measures, illegal trade of pangolin continues to be on the top of illegal wildlife crime around the world.
Link to coronavirus
Despite various threats it still faces, pangolins are in the "international spotlight" because of the suspected link to the coronavirus from bats to pangolins to people.
Although bats were mostly seen as a transmitter of the coronavirus, the latest study brings pangolins as potential intermediate hosts of the virus.
South China Agricultural University announced the discovery of a 99% genetic match between the new 2019-nCoV virus with a virus taken from pangolins, according to Chinese media reports.
Although it has not yet been confirmed, the mammals are believed to be as an intermediate host in this case, like civets between bats-people in the SARS and camels between bats-people in MERS case.
To prevent further spread of the deadly virus, China on Jan. 26, temporarily banned the sale of wildlife.
According to China’s National Health Commission, the coronavirus death toll in the country has risen to more than 1,300, with nearly 64,000 more confirmed cases.
The virus spread to more than 20 countries but only three deaths have been reported outside mainland China, one in Japan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.
The WHO has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.