China upgrades protection of pangolins from second to first class, same as giant panda

By Chen Shasha Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/5 20:41:43

File photo of a baby Sunda pangolin and its mother.Photo:Xinhua

China has announced it will upgrade all species of pangolins from second-class to first-class protected animals considering their rapidly decreasing numbers, due to overhunting and habitat destruction. Other first-class protected animals include giant pandas, Tibetan antelopes and red-crowned cranes.

The authority said it will work more to protect and rescue the species with measures which include improving their habitat, cracking down on poaching and trafficking, as well as setting up a protection research center and gene bank for pangolins.

At present, all the eight existing pangolin species in the world have been listed as endangered species in their respective countries and regions, Sun Quanhui, a scientist from World Animal Protection, told Global Times on Friday.

Chinese pangolins were widely distributed in 17 provinces in the south of the Yangtze River. However, a national survey in 2003 showed that the number of Chinese pangolins had dropped to about 64,000, and their living area has been reduced to 11 provinces, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The country banned pangolin hunting from the wild in 2007. And in August 2018, it stopped commercial imports of pangolins and pangolin products completely. However, the number of pangolins keeps decreasing, due to the continuous habitat destruction and insufficient punishment on eating pangolins.

In February, China's top legislature passed a decision amid the COVID-19 pandemic to thoroughly ban the illegal wildlife hunting trade, and eliminate bad habits of eating wild animals, which was seen as an important move to crack down on wildlife poaching, including pangolin.

The protection class upgrade has won support from Chinese netizens. Some urged an increase in the punishment of poachers, traffickers and consumers, and some asked to stop using it for medicine. "Please let go of the pangolins, humans have so many things to eat already," a Sina Weibo user wrote.

"It won't help if we do not completely ban its use in medicine," another one said.

Pangolin meat is viewed as a delicacy in some Asian cities. Pangolin scales are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote lactation and impotence. 

Sun suggested to remove pangolins from Chinese Pharmacopoeia and strengthen protection of wild animals used in medicine. "There is no scientific evidence in modern medicine to show that pangolin scales have certain therapeutic or health benefits," he said, noting a large number of herbs and synthetic products can replace the effects of wild animals used in medicine.

Expanding the population through artificial breeding is not an effective way and there are rare successful cases worldwide, Sun said. "Based on our practice in giant panda protection, protecting habitats, cracking down on poaching and reducing consumption are the most effective ways to protect pangolins." 

Sun also called on international cooperation as the illegal trade on pangolins has surged in recent years.

It is believed to be the world's most trafficked mammal. About 1 million pangolins are estimated to have been poached in the last decade, and 20 tons of pangolins and their parts are trafficked internationally every year, according to wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

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