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July 15, 2015

Protection Sought for Pangolins, World’s Most Illegally Trafficked Mammal

Wildlife Coalition Files Petition to List Pangolins Under U.S. Endangered Species Act

Born Free USA, Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare

  • Pangolin in the wild in Zimbabwe. Photo courtesy of Tikki Hywood Trust

Today, a coalition of wildlife groups petitioned the U.S. government to designate pangolins as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and also asked the agency to protect pangolins under the Act’s “similarity of appearance” provision.

Small and scaly, pangolins are the world’s most illegally trafficked mammal and in danger of extinction. It is estimated that more than 960,000 pangolins were illegally traded over the past decade. While these armored creatures once inhabited vast portions of Asia and Africa, their populations are severely dwindling due to a massive and growing demand for their meat and scales, which are erroneously believed to have curative properties in East Asian medicine.

“Illegal and detrimental international trade in pangolins and their parts is increasing at an alarming rate,” said Dr. Teresa Telecky, director of Wildlife for Humane Society International. “It is essential that the United States provide the highest level of legal protection to these imperiled pangolin species, end consumption of pangolins and their parts in this country, and encourage other countries to follow suit.”

“Many people have never heard of pangolins, yet, they are one of the most sought after and poached wild animals in the world,” said Jeff Flocken, North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “Listing the species as Endangered would make a serious statement by the U.S. government and reflect the very real plight of the pangolin. It would also ensure this country plays no role in the further decline of this species.”

Most illegally sourced pangolins are destined for markets in China and Vietnam, but demand for pangolins in the United States remains significant. At least 26,000 imports of pangolin products were seized in the United States between 2004 and 2013.

If protection is granted under the Endangered Species Act, the import and interstate sale of all pangolins and pangolin parts would be prohibited in the United States, unless such activity can be shown to promote the conservation of the species. A listing would also heighten global awareness about the importance of conserving the species. Currently, only one of the eight pangolin species — the Temminck’s ground pangolin from Africa — is protected as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

Because all species of pangolins so closely resemble each other that law enforcement officials have difficulty distinguishing them, the groups also filed a “similarity of appearance” petition. If granted, trade and import of all pangolin species in the United States would be banned, to ensure the currently listed Temminck’s pangolin is not imported due to false identification.  

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“These little known species are critical to their ecosystem, but they could go extinct before most people even hear of them. We encourage the U.S. government to list all pangolin species under the Endangered Species Act expeditiously, taking an appropriate global position of leadership in doing everything possible to save these animals from extinction,” said Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA and the Born Free Foundation.

“If we don’t act now, demand for pangolin parts will wipe this extraordinary, odd and beautiful animal off the map,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The United States must do its part to shut down trade in pangolin scales.” 

Countries around the world are looking for solutions to address this dire crisis facing pangolins. Representatives from 29 pangolin-range countries in African and Asia recently converged in Da Nang, Vietnam to participate in the First Pangolin Range States Meeting hosted by the governments of Vietnam and the United States. The meeting sought to foster collaborative efforts among pangolin-range states, pangolin-consuming countries and relevant stakeholders. Discussions focused on the latest pangolin population and trade information and examined the increasing illegal international trade. The parties also agreed to a set of recommendations to protect pangolin species against overexploitation as a result of international trade.

The groups filing the petition are Born Free USA, the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, The Humane Society of the United States and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Learn more:

Read the petition (annex) [PDF]

Media contacts:

Raúl Arce-Contreras, 301.721.6440, rcontreras@humanesociety.org
Abby Berman, 646.695.7044, abby@rosengrouppr.com
Born Free USA:
Rodi Rosensweig Zimmerman, 203.270.8929, rodicompany@earthlink.net
Center for Biological Diversity:
Sarah Uhlemann, 206.327.2344, suhlemann@biologicaldiversity.org  

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