Pangolins have received heightened exposure in the media over the last year due to their potential links to the COVID-19 outbreak. This World Pangolin Day, we reflect on the plight of the pangolin and WildAid’s efforts over the last year to protect them.

Poaching for illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss continue to make pangolins one of the most threatened groups of mammals in the world.

Over one million pangolins have been hunted in the past decade, making it also one of the world’s most trafficked mammals and pushing the animal towards extinction.

Up to 200,000 pangolins are killed and trafficked every year for their scales, which are used in traditional Asian medicine, while their meat is used in luxury food in many parts of Asia, and their skins are used for various purposes such as fashion.

Caged pangolin confiscated in Medan, Indonesia. Photo by Paul Hilton.

In early 2017, all eight pangolin species gained full protection from cross-border commercial trade under international law. However, illegal trade has continued, and in 2019 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared that the status of three of the eight pangolin species has worsened in its update to the Red List of Threatened Species: Two African pangolin species, the white-bellied and the giant ground pangolin, moved from the “Vulnerable” to “Endangered” category alongside the Indian pangolin, while the Philippine pangolin moved from “Endangered” to “Critically Endangered,” joining the Sunda and Chinese pangolins.

WildAid has been on the front lines of the fight for pangolins, launching its public awareness campaign in 2016.  Our campaign aims to eliminate the demand for pangolins in the world’s two largest markets – China and Vietnam – through behavior change campaigns designed to educate consumers and make consumption of pangolin products socially unacceptable. Enlisting the power and reach of legendary ambassadors like Jackie Chan and China’s superstar Angelababy, and working closely with government and media partners, we have reached some 800 million viewers in these countries with our messaging across dozens of TV networks and on over 160,000 video screens in subways, airports, bus stops, hospitals and shopping centers.  

Our 2016 video PSA with mega-star Jay Chou warned viewers of the potential health risks of consuming pangolin meat and went viral in early 2020 with over 20 million views in just a few days. 

Jay Chou pangolin ads in a Beijing subway station.

In June 2020, the Chinese Pharmacopeia Commission omitted pangolin scales from the list of key ingredients in the latest pharmacopeia, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  

On the heels of this news, WildAid and its partners, the China Wildlife Conservation Association and the Pangolin Crisis Fund, launched a new series of outdoor advertisements in August 2020 to keep pangolins in the spotlight. These ads reinforced the message that pangolins should be protected and that consumption of their meat and products is illegal. The campaign launched in nine major cities with over 220 ads placed, garnering over 70 million views in the first two weeks.  

WildAid cartoon pangolin ad campaign in Guangzhou subway station.

In Vietnam, WildAid and our local NGO partner CHANGE assisted the government with a Prime Ministerial directive prohibiting any hunting, transporting, slaughtering, selling, buying, storing, consuming, or advertising of wildlife, including online sales. 

To further help educate the public, WildAid, CHANGE, and the Pangolin Crisis Fund launched a series of educational campaigns, including The Host campaign with influential Vietnamese ambassadors that urged people to stop consuming wildlife in order to help prevent similar pandemics in the future. 

In the Host campaign in Vietnam, WildAid urged the public to stop consuming wildlife products so we can all avoid becoming hosts for COVID-19.

Investigations conducted by the Environmental Investigation Agency UK (EIA) have found that organized crime and endemic corruption have resulted in Nigeria becoming the world’s primary exit point for pangolin scales trafficked from Africa to Asia. The same networks and routes used for the bushmeat trade are being co-opted for international wildlife trafficking. Between 2016 – 2019, over half of the pangolin scales seized globally came from Nigeria, a trade that is estimated to be worth between $7 billion and $23 billion annually. 

Later this year, WildAid will launch a public awareness campaign in major cities across Nigeria to change consumer behavior and will collaborate with local Nigeria government agencies to improve enforcement and communication of existing wildlife laws. 

With global attention on the health risks of the wildlife trade and calls to close such markets, WildAid launched the Protect Wildlife, Prevent Pandemics campaign in November 2020 to accelerate efforts to ensure permanent bans on wildlife markets and the urban bushmeat trade? are enacted and enforced, and demand for such products is eradicated for the future of both humans and wildlife. In China, Vietnam, and Thailand alone, our goal is to significantly reduce the wildlife trade by dissuading 87 Million wildlife consumers from purchasing and using wildlife products over the next 2 years. Learn more about our latest campaign and help us protect pangolins while preventing future pandemics. 

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About WildAid

WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $218 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too. 

Journalists on deadline may email communications@wildaid.org