The pangolin may be one of the weirdest animals on Earth. It’s the only mammal that’s covered with scales, lives on ants, rolls up into a cute little spiral and can have a tongue that’s longer than its armored body. But pangolins are known for something else: being the world’s most trafficked mammal. But that will hopefully soon change. As the Associated Press reports, a global wildlife meeting just approved a ban on pangolin trade—a move that could save the creature.
The ban was announced at CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. The conference is taking place now in Johannesburg, South Africa and brings together 183 member countries who make agreements concerning animal trade. Today, the CITES convention protects over 35,000 species of animals and plants.
The pangolin certainly needs that protection. As the AP reports, the animals is poached for its meat and scales, and experts estimate that more than a million of the animals have been killed within the last ten years. Pangolins have long been used in traditional Asian medicine. As Scientific American’s John R. Platt writes, their scales are said to cure cancer and help people lose weight. But that’s not the case: Their scales are made of keratin, like rhino and antelope horns, and the substance has no medicinal properties, he reports.
The lust for pangolin scales and meat has left the animals critically endangered. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Malayan pangolin populations have declined more than 80 percent over the last 21 years, and are expected to decline by another 80 percent in the next 21-year period. Hopefully, the ban will halt this downward spiral. It prohibits trade of seven species of pangolin in the strictest terms and is expected to be ratified next week, the AP reports.
Despite the ban, pangolins will likely remain attractive to poachers. As Damian Carrington writes for The Guardian, they roll up in a little ball when they feel threatened, which makes them easy prey. Carrington gives another reason pangolins appeal to hunters: The price of their scales has gone up ten times in the last five years alone. Perhaps an international effort to protect the pangolin—and raise visibility of the strange little creature—will make the future brighter for an animal that’s as well known for being killed as for its unique characteristics.