China still supports pangolin trade despite promised crackdown, investigation finds

China still supports pangolin trade despite promised crackdown, investigation finds - We The World
Image courtesy of David Brossard via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

A new Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report reveals that the Chinese Government still supports the use of pangolins, China’s most illegally trafficked mammal, regardless of a warning from EIA to remove pangolin scales to be used as a raw ingredient for traditional medicine.

In the use of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), though unproven, the pangolins are boiled to remove the scales, then dried and roasted to facilitate women who have lactating problems, help to drain pus, and relieve skin diseases or palsy – a major cause of the pangolins having almost disappeared in China.  

In early June, We The World reported that the Chinese government had put a ban on the use of pangolin scales in TCM and that all species of pangolin are covered under the highest level of protection.

However, recently, a team of the EIA obtained from a copy of China’s 2020 pharmacopeia that although pangolin scales had been removed from the list of raw ingredients they were still listed as a key ingredient in various patent medicines.

Online sales platforms such as eBay and Taobao continue to advertise and promote pangolin items, and major pharmaceutical companies like China Beijing Tong Ren Tang Group, offer similar items directly on their websites – a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals.

Report of investigators at Smoke and Mirrors reveals that 221 companies are licensed to sell products containing pangolin scales, out of which 56 companies advertise products online claiming to contain pangolin.

According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, about 71% of pangolin scale seizures were destined for China.

An estimation of 200,000 pangolins is consumed per year in Asia where Chinese traditional medicine is the main consuming point. Vietnam is also in the list of the consumer of pangolins major market.

Chris Hamley, EIA’s Senior Pangolin Campaigner, said: “Amid mounting concerns about the role of wildlife trade in causing the coronavirus pandemic, it is critical that the Chinese Government ends all legal use of pangolin scales, instead of allowing the multi-billion dollar TCM industry to carry on as usual.”

He further stated, “The Government claims the pangolin scales used in medicines come from a national stockpile – but it is a stockpile shrouded in secrecy and never seems to run out. Demand is being met by trafficking from across Africa and Asia; the vast majority of pangolin scale shipments seized from illegal trade are ultimately bound for China.

By keeping the door open for the TCM industry to exploit pangolins, the Chinese Government is undermining international efforts to end the global pangolin trafficking crisis and fueling transnational organized crime.”

Hamley, on reviewing China’s wildlife protection law, said that it urgently needs to amend the Law and incorporate a strict prohibition of acquisition, sale, or possession, including medicinal purposes, of all parts and products of pangolins and other globally threatened species, and instead use herbal ingredients. 

The international community could also use the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) to encourage nations to take tougher action to regulate domestic markets.

These reports reinstate the need for the Chinese government to lay emphasize on sealing the loopholes if at all the plan is serious.

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