Sales of its scales for traditional Chinese medicine, and its meat as a delicacy, have made the pangolin the world’s most trafficked non-human mammal. The unique creature’s survival was so threatened that in 2016, international commercial trade in pangolins was banned.
But despite those protections, a new report—shared exclusively with National Geographic— finds that law enforcement seizures of pangolin scales and meat reached an all-time high in 2019. Worldwide, more than 128 tons were intercepted—an increase of more than 200 percent from five years earlier.
Often described as “scaly anteaters,” pangolins are the world’s only mammal with true scales, armored plates made of keratin. While these scales can protect pangolins even from the bite of a lion, they’re