Pangolins are strange-looking creatures. These anteater-like mammals live in Africa and Asia. They’re covered with hard scales that protect them from animals trying to eat them. But pangolins’ body armor can’t protect them from their biggest threat: poachers (people who hunt illegally).
Poaching has pushed the pangolin population to the brink of extinction. But a new agreement could help save the endangered critters. Last fall, 183 nations, including the U.S., agreed to ban the buying and selling of pangolins and their body parts. Officials hope this will help boost pangolin numbers.
PROBLEMS FOR PANGOLINS
More than 1 million pangolins have been captured and sold in the past 15 years. Experts say the scaly creatures are trafficked, or illegally bought and sold, more than any other mammal.
Why are pangolins so prized? In some Asian countries, such as China and Vietnam, pangolin meat is considered a delicacy (something pleasing to eat that is rare and expensive). Pangolin scales are also ground and used in traditional Asian medicines. Pangolins scales are made of keratin, the same material human fingernails are made of. But some people mistakenly believe the scales can treat many types of diseases.
A STEP FORWARD
Experts think the ban is a big step in the right direction and toward raising awareness about pangolins’ plight. Hopefully, more people will join the fight to save the animals as they get to know them, says Elly Pepper. She’s a wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. This group works to protect wildlife and the environment. “People are realizing that they’re just incredibly special creatures,” says Pepper.