Pangolins, nocturnal animals that feast on ants, are highly sought after for their supposed, but unproven, medicinal benefits, and as a culinary delicacy. They are said to be the most trafficked wild animal in the world.
In December 2019, the Xinhua news agency reported the seizure of over 10 tonnes of pangolin scales in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. This was the largest seizure of pangolin scales by Chinese customs officials up to that point in 2019. The pangolins in question were reported to be African tree pangolins.
“This is both good and bad news,” says Doreen Robinson, a wildlife expert with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “One the one hand it indicates a serious effort on the part of the Government of China to tackle wildlife crime, on the other it shows that large quantities of trafficked pangolins are still reaching the country.”
At the same time, China has taken steps to make it more difficult to sell pangolin scale medicines: since August 2019, they are no longer covered by Chinese medical insurance. “This may dampen demand for pangolin scales and other body parts used in traditional medicine,” says Robinson.
Pangolin trafficking topped wildlife crimes in 2019 in Malawi, according to the Xinhua news agency. Local media reports, it said, indicate that the first successful convictions for pangolin trafficking in the sub-Saharan country took place in November 2017.
Meanwhile, six international airline companies will be taking the message of pangolin conservation to the skies this year. British Airways, Swiss International Air Lines, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, TAP Air Portugal and KLM have all committed to screening the groundbreaking documentary, Eye of the Pangolin, on their long-haul routes, according to Pangolin Africa.