The last ten years have been abysmal for pangolins. Since 2006, over a million of these small, nocturnal animals – which many people will never have even heard of – have been taken from the wild to fuel demand for their scales and meat in East Asia. Intense poaching has provided them with the saddest of titles: Most Illegally Traded Mammal In The World.
Yet yesterday, delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) COP17 passed a motion to move them to Appendix I – offering all eight species of pangolin from both Asia and Africa the highest levels of protection, and making trade in their parts completely illegal.
The proposals were lead by India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Vietnam, Angola, Botswana, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Togo, and supported by the United States, New Zealand and others.
Arguing for their up-listing yesterday, a delegate from India said, ‘In spite of strict national laws protecting pangolins’ vulnerability [in India], illegal trade remains a concern. We have noticed tiger hunters shifting to poaching pangolins [because of rising demand and market price]. Because of this, the species could be driven to extinction and India strongly supports the up-listing of all pangolin species to Appendix I.’
Following the decision yesterday, the room broke into applause, with delegates and conservationists alike celebrating the decision. Speaking afterwards, Susan Lieberman, Vice-President of International Policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society said, ‘This will help give pangolins a fighting chance. The world is standing up for the little guy with this pivotal decision for greater protection of the pangolin. These species need extra protection, and under CITES Appendix I they will get it.’
Indonesia was the only party not in favour of the up-listing, voicing concerns about the protection increasing legal trade. ‘If there is no cap on domestic trade this [up-listing to Appendix I] will not make a difference,’ said their spokesperson yesterday. The country blocked a majority view to move Asian pangolins to Appendix I initially, which sent the proposal to a vote. It was here that parties overwhelmingly voted to increase the protection to Appendix I.
Mark Hofberg, Assistant Campaigns Officer at IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) said, ‘The rate at which [pangolins] are being killed is completely unsustainable and cruel. If nothing would be done, we could see these amazing creatures disappear within a generation.’
He continued, ‘Two separate decisions were taken today – one for Asia, and one for Africa. Of the two decisions, the African vote was completely unanimous; and only one country – Indonesia – voted against the Asian proposal. This is a perfect example of when the international community can come together for a species that truly needs help, and enacts strong, global regulations that can make a real difference.’
Ginette Hemley, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)’s CITES head of delegation also celebrated the decision, but warned that the push to protect the pangolin does not finish with this convention. ‘This fight doesn’t end here,’ she said. ‘The parties must move swiftly to enforce the decision. Illegal trade will continue to threaten pangolins as long as demand for their meat and scales persists. Today is a major step forward for conservation. But it’s only if countries act on the resolve they’ve shown today that pangolins will be given the chance to survive and lose their tag as the world’s most trafficked mammal.’
The listing in Appendix I will not become official until the final day of the Conference, when it is formally adopted by the Plenary. It will then enter into force 90 days after. Decisions are expected in the next few days on rhino, elephants, lions, sharks and more.