What the Heck Is a Pangolin?

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Pangolins are being over-poached, a conservation group has warned, thanks to being "eaten to extinction" in China and Vietnam. An action plan issued Tuesday called for ending poaching, as well as increasing surveillance of trade and consumption of the endangered animals.

But before we move along, what are pangolins? Here's a baby pangolin on the back of its mother pangolin:


Here's a newborn pangolin, not yet covered in those coveted scales:

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 

And here's one on top of hundreds of bags of illegally poached pangolins, seized by a Thai customs officer. They were en route to be sold in China before being confiscated.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 


We'll spare you more photos of those. Pangolins, as you can tell, are scaly anteater-like creatures—the only mammals to have scales—that roam Asia and Africa, but according to the Pangolin Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature report released Tuesday, they're on the brink of extinction.

Why? Because we can't stop poaching them for food and for their scales.

The report states that more than one million pangolins have been poached in the past decade, and as a result, all eight species of pangolins are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Though commercial trade of all Asian pangolins is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and pangolin eating is listed as a crime punishable by 10 or more years in prison in China, the region's black market has only unfortunately stepped up its efforts in poaching and trafficking pangolins.

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In fact, Nepal officials arrested five people in June 2013 for killing at least 45 pangolins and attempting to smuggle them into China, reported The Himalayan Times. And just last week, Vietnamese customs officials seized 1.4 tons of pangolin scales that allegedly arrived from Sierra Leone.

IUCN's action plan, therefore, encourages the governments of China and Vietnam to step up monitoring pangolins and pangolin products. But beyond Asia, said Paul Thomson, IUCN vice chairman for communications, countries must raise awareness of pangolins.

"More people need to know about pangolins and how they are on the edge of extinction," Thomson told The New York Times. "These are the most illegally traded mammals in the world, and yet many people don't know they exist."

But if IUCN's action plan isn't enough to spread awareness of the plight of pangolins, maybe this video will do the trick:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.