China: Eaten into oblivion

Pangolins, a scaly anteater long prized in China and Vietnam for their meat and scales, are being ‘eaten to extinction’, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), who compile the Red List of endangered and threatened species.

There are eight species of pangolin, with the Chinese, Sunda, Philippine, and Indian being upgraded to ‘endangered’ on the Red List – the last status before being declared extinct. The Black-bellied, White-bellied, Giant Ground, and Temminck’s Ground species of pangolin – all found in Africa – have been upgraded to ‘vulnerable’, a far more serious status, and one that signifies the growing threat to their numbers (more can be seen about the IUCN Red List here).

With the populations of Asian pangolins being hit hard by poaching, it is now the African pangolins that are being targeted by poachers looking to export them to the Asian market. Despite a global ban on their trade, more than a million pangolins have been caught illegally over the past decade, according to the Guardian, making them the most trafficked mammal in the world. The final destination for pangolins are the kitchens of Vietnam and China, where they are considered a delicacy, and where their scales are thought to cure cancer, asthma, and to improve lactation.

The trade and butchering of pangolins is extremely cruel. They are kept alive in kitchens and fattened before slaughter, often with tubes inserted down their throats to pump them full of a starchy concoction, or injected with liquids in order to increase their weight before sale. In China, the animals are kept alive until they are ordered by guests, and then bludgeoned to death by the chef, who drains them of blood, and stews them. The blood is taken home by the guests.

There have been recent seizures of pangolins, with one of the largest coming in April of 2013, when a Chinese fishing boat carrying 400 boxes of frozen pangolins was seized by Philippine coast guard, after it had run aground in a protected marine sanctuary (SCMP report). The plight of the pangolin has not gone unnoticed in China, either, with the Epoch Times reporting on it’s status, as well as the Guardian report itself making news on 163.com. Some 420 species are protected in China, and the Chinese government is leading by example, taking pangolins, shark fin soup, and other endangered species off their banqueting menu. A new law has come in recently, giving an additional 10 year penalty to those caught trafficking endangered species, but as ever in China, how much it will be enforced is anyone’s guess. Furthermore, whilst it is illegal to trade in wild animals, it is still legal to trade in farmer animals, whether they are endangered or not. This brings up the possibility of poachers passing off their illegally caught wild animals as being legally farmed, and wasting the laws and campaigns that are being introduced to both China and Vietnam to combat the trade in pangolins.

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