The Chinese government has removed pangolin scales from its 2020 list of approved ingredients used in traditional Chinese medicine, a move campaigners describe as a “critical step” towards saving the world’s most trafficked mammal.
As many as 200,000 pangolins are consumed each year in Asia for their scales and meat and more than 130 tonnes of scales, live and dead animals were seized in cross-border trafficking busts last year, a figure estimated to represent up to 400,000 animals, according to conservation group WildAid.
Pangolins are scale-covered insectivores, about the size of a house cat, that are highly valued in Asia for their meat and scales. Last year alone, authorities seized more than 130 tons of pangolin related products, a figure estimated to represent up to 400,000 animals, according to conservation group WildAid.
Trade in all eight species of pangolin are protected under international law and three of the four native to Asia are included on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered species, including the functionally extinct Chinese pangolin.
Its body parts fetch a high price on the black market as they are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, although scientists say they have no therapeutic value.
“Depleted wild resources” are being withdrawn from the Pharmacopoeia, Health Times reported, although the exact reason for the removal of pangolins was unclear.
China has in recent months banned the sale of wild animals for food, citing the risk of diseases spreading to humans, but the trade remains legal for other purposes — including research and traditional medicine.
The decision to remove the pangolin from the official list comes just days after China’s State Forestry and Grassland Bureau announced that the Chinese pangolin would be upgraded to a “first-level protected wild animal,” the highest possible protection status alongside pandas and tigers.
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Sophia Zhang, director of the Pangolin Working Group at the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, said that while she was pleased by the result, she felt it came “a bit late.”
Zhang from the Pangolin Working Group said she was worried that the damage to the pangolin populations in China may be irreversible.
“Not only do pangolins need to be removed from the list — pangolins are already a tragedy and rarely can be seen now — all endangered species should be removed from the medicine list,” she said.
“Don’t wait until the animal will soon die out before taking it out from the list. There will be no turning back then.”
The World Wide Fund for Nature on Saturday said it “strongly welcomed” China’s move to upgrade protections for the pangolin, calling it an “important respite” from the illegal pangolin trade.