An international trading ban has been imposed on the world’s most trafficked mammal, the pangolin, at a CITES conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, giving new hope to an animal on the brink of extinction.

A unanimous vote between the 183 countries, which constitutes the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), means the ban on trade of all 8 species of pangolin will be enacted.

Cited as the inspiration for the Pokémon ‘Sandshrew’, pangolins are cat-sized, nocturnal mammals found across Asia and Africa. They are often referred to as ‘scaly anteaters’ owing to their diet of ants and mites and their distinctive, fully scaled body and tongue, which can be as long as their body. When threatened, pangolins curl up into a ball, using their scales as armour.

The species are a lucrative commodity and are trafficked around Southern Africa and Asia to be used for traditional medicine, clothing and bush meat. Pangolin products include dried and roasted scales, to treat anxiety and hysterical crying. They are also hunted to be used as coats and culinary delicacies, including ‘pangolin foetus soup’, acclaimed to enhance for male virility.

Shockingly, a kilogram of pangolin scales can potentially sell for $3000. It is estimated that over 1 million pangolins have been poached in the last decade; pangolin products alone make up around 20% of the global illegal wildlife market, with China and Vietnam being the primary consumers.
Exacerbating this issue is the threat of habitat loss that the pangolin also faces and the animal’s low productive rate, meaning it cannot recover quickly from large population losses.

Despite the pangolin’s dire situation, they are relatively unknown in comparison to other endangered animals, such as elephants and tigers, as they are rarely advertised in mainstream conservation media.
Conservation efforts for the world’s only wholly-scaled mammal have recently been endorsed by Prince Harry and David Attenborough. The improved status that CITES have given pangolins will means that laws on illegal pangolin trade will be harsher and simpler to inforce- a vitally needed step in saving this unique creature.
The CITES conference started on 28th September and will run until the 5th of October. Other headlines from the meeting include an international ban on the endangered African Grey Parrot and a non-binding agreement to close of all domestic ivory markets.