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China removes Pangolin scales from the list of ‘approved ingredients

Published: 22nd Jun, 2020

China has officially removed pangolin scales from the list of ‘approved ingredients’ from traditional medicine, a move aimed at protecting the most trafficked species in the world.


China has officially removed pangolin scales from the list of ‘approved ingredients’ from traditional medicine, a move aimed at protecting the most trafficked species in the world.


  • Pangolins are a group of Asian and African mammals that are covered in hard scales, curl up into a ball to defend themselves, and are sadly the most heavily trafficked animal in the world.
  • They have got small heads but long snouts and even longer tongues for slurping up ants from inside ant nests, leading some people to call them scaly anteaters.
  • Species: There are eight pangolin species, four Asian and four African-
    • Chinese pangolin, Manis pentadactyla
    • Indian pangolin (also known as thick-tailed pangolin), M. crassicaudata
    • Sunda pangolin (all known as Malayan pangolin), M. 
    • Philippine pangolin, M. culionensis 
    • Tree pangolin (also known as white-bellied pangolin), Phataginus tricuspis
    • Long-tailed pangolin (also known as black-bellied pangolin), P. tetradactyla 
    • Giant pangolin (also known as giant ground pangolin), Smutsia gigantica
    • Cape pangolin (also known as ground pangolin, Temminck’s ground pangolin, South African pangolin or steppe pangolin), S. temminckii

Status: All eight species are threatened with extinction, and are listed on the IUCN Red Listas either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered.

Why has put Pangolins in the spotlight?

  • Pangolins, which are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity – have been in the spotlight since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, due to studies suggesting they may have been the intermediate host that transmitted the virus to humans.
  • Of the two animals known to naturally carry the Sars-CoV-2 virus– bats and pangolins – the latter is the most problematic, both for its meat and for the scales that protect its body.
  • Neither has been positively identified as the intermediate source that transferred the virus to humans, though a 100% identification may prove elusive.

The current status

  • China accorded the highest level of protection to pangolins, which is believed to be the intermediate host of the novel coronavirus, on par with the endangered species. 
  • The Chinese Pangolin is listed under critically endangered species in the IUCN Red List, primarily threatened by indiscriminate hunting and poaching.
  • The step of the delisting from the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) pharmacopoeia comes after the country’s State Forestry and Grassland Administration (SFGA) raised the protected status of pangolins to the highest level, with immediate effect.
  • China’s National Forestry and Grasslands Administration (NFGA) recently announced that pangolins have been upgraded to the new Class I Protected Species classification.  

The world’s most trafficked mammal

  • As many as 200,000 pangolins are consumed each yearin Asia for their scales and meat and more than 130 tonnes of scales, live and dead animals were seized in cross-border trafficking busts last year, a figure estimated to represent up to 400,000 animals.
  • Trade in all eight species of pangolin are protected under international law and three of the four native to Asia are included on the red list of theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered species, including the functionally extinct Chinese pangolin.

Why Pangolin’s scales matter?

  • Pangolins have large, protective keratin scales covering their skin who live in hollow trees or burrows.
  • Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same material as human nails, and make up 20% of their body weight.
  • Pangolin tails are also covered in the same scale armour as the rest of their bodies, but their tails are strong too – some pangolins live in the trees and can use their tail as a fifth limb that’s easily strong enough to support their full bodyweight.
  • Though Pangolin scales are made up of keratin, traditional Chinese medicine believes it improves blood circulation and reduces inflammation.

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