WASHINGTON— A coalition of wildlife groups today filed a notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to propose pangolin protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
These scaly mammals from Asia and Africa are in grave danger of extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that protections for pangolins may be warranted in response to a 2015 petition filed by the groups. But the agency has failed to take any further action despite mounting evidence of threats to the species.
The gentle animals face massive demand for their scales, which are erroneously believed to have curative properties in East Asian medicine, and their meat, which is consumed as a delicacy in some Asian countries.
Today’s filing follows several massive seizures of pangolin scales and other parts in Asia earlier this year, representing tens of thousands of dead pangolins, despite an international ban on such trade.
“Poachers are killing thousands of pangolins a week, so these unique, scaly mammals desperately need help,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we don’t halt the massive trafficking of pangolin parts, they could vanish in decades. The U.S. has to do its part to shut down the global pangolin trade and save these extraordinary animals.”
Described as resembling artichokes or pinecones with legs, pangolins are the world’s only mammal with scales. They are also the world’s most trafficked mammals. Between 2004 and 2014, more than a million were illegally traded — an average of nearly 300 animals being killed each day. Continued poaching and trade have driven population declines throughout the pangolins’ ranges.
In 2016 nations around the world agreed to ban the international commercial trade in pangolins and their parts under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Yet this year 28 tons of their scales were seized during two busts in Singapore. Another 33 tons of pangolin scales and bodies were seized in Malaysia.
“It is past time for the United States to take action to curb the illicit trade in pangolin parts,” said Jeff Flocken, Humane Society International President and co-author of the 2015 listing petition. “The poachers who are driving the world’s most trafficked mammal to extinction are not dragging their feet, so neither should the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
One pangolin species, the Temminck’s ground pangolin, is already protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In July 2015 several wildlife groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the other seven pangolin species. The Endangered Species Act required the Service to either propose protections or find protections “not warranted” by July 2016, more than three years ago.
“Pangolins remain one of the greatest victims of the illegal wildlife trade. More than four years ago, Born Free USA and other organizations submitted a petition outlining the need for the United States to take action, and yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not made any significant progress,” said Angela Grimes, CEO for Born Free USA. “Meanwhile, years have passed, and pangolins continue to suffer and die for their scales. It is past time for the United States to be a leader in preventing the extinction of these critically endangered creatures.”
Most illegally sourced pangolins are destined for markets in China and Vietnam, but the United States also drives demand. At least 26,000 imports of pangolin products were seized in the United States between 2004 and 2013, and a 2015 report by Humane Society International found “medicinal” products containing or likely to contain pangolin parts openly for sale online and at U.S. stores.
“The Trump administration must act quickly to give pangolins a fighting chance,” said Elly Pepper, deputy director of International Wildlife Conservation at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “With scientists predicting the extinction of over one million species, the time for transformative change — including reining in destructive consumption patterns like those decimating pangolins — is now.”
If pangolins are protected as endangered under U.S. law, the import and interstate sale of all pangolins would be prohibited in the United States, unless such activity can be shown to promote the conservation of the species. A listing would also heighten global awareness about the importance of conserving the species and make funding available to further protect pangolins in a number of ways, including anti-trafficking and habitat conservation efforts.