Pangolins, the world’s only mammal with scales, are being trafficked by the ton. In the first eight days of April 2019 alone, authorities seized two 14-ton shipments of pangolin scales in Singapore, representing an estimated 72,000 animals and worth a combined $90 million. In February, Malaysian law enforcement seized a 33-ton shipment of mostly whole, frozen pangolins.
The scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, for everything from alleviating arthritis to helping nursing mothers with lactation, and their meat is considered a delicacy by some in Asia. They’re also hunted for bushmeat in central and West Africa. While we don’t know exactly how many are left in the wild, it’s obvious that this level of hunting isn’t sustainable.
Sometimes called “pinecones with legs,” pangolins are very sensitive creatures and for the most part don’t do well in captivity. In the wild, they’re slow to reproduce and give birth to only one baby at a time. Pangolins are nocturnal, solitary, and shy—nearly impossible for even the most dedicated field researchers to get a glimpse of. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean you can’t help them. Here are some suggestions:
- Raise awareness about pangolins by sharing the National Geographic pangolin story on social media. One of the biggest challenges facing pangolins is that so few people know what they are and why they’re in such peril. As National Geographic Photo Ark photographer Joel Sartore says, “You won’t save what you don’t love.”
- Don’t eat pangolin meat, and don’t buy pangolin products.
- Contribute to the new Pangolin Crisis Fund. A partnership between the nonprofits Wildlife Conservation Network, Save Pangolins, and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the fund will put 100 percent of every dollar raised directly toward pangolin conservation.
Wildlife Watch is an investigative reporting project between National Geographic Society and National Geographic Partners focusing on wildlife crime and exploitation. Read more Wildlife Watch stories here, and learn more about National Geographic Society’s nonprofit mission at nationalgeographic.org. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.