By Jeremy Hance
Demand for scales, meat, and even fetuses of pangolins have pushed all eight species of this unique mammalian order—Pholidota—toward extinction, according to the world's first ever pangolin conference with the International Union for Conservation of Nature - Species Survival Commission (IUCN-SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group. Meeting in Singapore earlier this month, 40 conservationists from 14 countries discussed the plight of these little-known scaly mammals and how to turn around their global decline.
Although known as 'scaly anteaters,' pangolins are actually a group of termite-eating mammals that stand alone: according to genetics, their closest relatives are not anteaters, but carnivores. Nocturnal and shy, these mammals have long been elusive to scientists. But across much of East Asia, pangolins are in high demand. Although trading them is illegal, their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine; their meat is openly sold; and even their fetuses are eaten in a soup delicacy.
"They are more than likely the most traded wild mammals globally," explains Dan Challender, Co-Chair of the IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent. "Following huge declines in populations of the Chinese pangolin, trade has mainly involved the Sunda pangolin in recent years, which occurs across Southeast Asia, but pangolins are now being sourced from South Asia and as far as Africa to meet demand in East Asia."
Four species of pangolin are found in Asia and four in Africa. Both the Chinese and Sunda pangolin are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, while the other six species are in lower categories. Still, new evidence presented at the meeting will likely place the other six species in higher-risk categories as well. More....