Jun. 10, 2020 07:30AM EST
China has offered a lifeline to the world's most trafficked non-human mammals by removing pangolin scales from its official list of traditional medicines.
"This is the single greatest measure that could be taken to save the pangolins," WildAid CEO Peter Knights told National Geographic. "This sends a clear message that there are alternatives in traditional Chinese medicine and so you don't need to use pangolins."
All eight species of pangolin are at risk from extinction. Tens of thousands are killed every year for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam, and their scales, which are used for medicinal purposes. Three of the four species native to Asia are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list, according to The Guardian.
The delisting of the pangolin from the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) pharmacopoeia comes a week after the State Forestry and Grassland Administration (SFGA) raised their protection status. They are now at Class 1, the highest conservation level also enjoyed by pandas, National Geographic pointed out. It means almost all domestic trade and use of the animals is now prohibited.
"This shows China's rapidly strengthened commitment to protecting wildlife," WildAid in Beijing chief representative Steve Blake told The Guardian of the two moves.
The delisting of the pangolin was not officially announced. Instead, it was first reported by China's Health Times newspaper.
"China will often intentionally let an announcement like this come out through the press rather than a formal announcement," Save Pangolins co-founder and Executive Director Paul Thompson told National Geographic.
He further told BBC News that the decision could be a "game changer" for pangolin conservation.
"We hope China's next move will be to enforce the regulations and work to change consumer behaviour," he said.