Our voices are being heard! Each time you step up, speak out, donate, or take positive action towards making change, it truly does make a difference. An example of that difference can be seen in China’s latest move to ban use of the pangolin scale — an illegal delicacy and Traditional Chinese Medicine ingredient that likely led to the coronavirus outbreak. While this is certainly cause for celebration, it is also an important moment for us all to continue applying pressure to destroy the illegal wildlife trade. To protect our health, our families, and our planet, we’ve got to keep up this positive momentum.

A Closer Look at Our Progress

With upwards of 75% of human viruses originating in wildlife over the past century, COVID-19 has illuminated the relationship between the consumption of illegal wildlife and associated risks to human health.

Graphic by Conservation Beyond Borders

In response to the gravity of this pandemic, China banned the consumption of wildlife meat back in February. However, the initial ban lacked clarity concerning pangolin scale usage in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). China’s latest expansion of the ban to include TCM use is encouraging — not only for human and wildlife health, but also because it may help to impact broader acknowledgment by the TCM community that pangolin scales are not essential for medical use. This will hopefully then empower additional acknowledgment that tiger bone and rhino horn need not be used medicinally in TCM, either. The time has come for China — and the world — to ban the use and possession of all endangered wildlife and their parts.

We still have a long way to go. Pangolin scales may still be used for research, and usage of stockpiled scales and so-called captive breeding programs is still permitted. Upwards of 70% of Chinese citizens believe these keratin-based scales promote lactation in young mothers, and may cure cancer, coronary heart disease, rheumatism, and skin disorders and infections.

Many also believe that pangolin blood is an aphrodisiac. Pangolins are eaten by China’s elite in the hope of health or sexual benefits. The newly announced ban should also ban such social practices.

China’s expansion of the pangolin scale ban to include TCM use truly has the power to become a milestone in wildlife protection by clarifying  misconceptions about the keratin-based animal parts being of benefit to these human conditions. The draw to eastern medicine is often holistically based, but science has disproved any effect of rhino horn, pangolin scale, and tiger bones as a treatment for human health issues. Consumers  should contemplate the holistic benefits of consuming animals that are being cruelly poached and illegally traded. The continued permitted use of stockpiled pangolin scales — similar to China’s permitted use of old/stockpiled tiger bones and rhino horns — poses the greatest continued risk to progress in this area and may, in fact, provide smugglers with validated means.

Protecting Wildlife, Preserving Human Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on risks to human health associated with the consumption of illegal wildlife. However, this is not the first time that Chinese officials have tried to contain risks associated with the illegal wildlife trade. In 2003, China oversaw the killing of civets in large numbers, and the selling of snakes was briefly banned after they transferred the SARS virus to humans.

Following the association between the consumption of exotic meats and SARS, China also banned the consumption of pangolin meat from 2002-2004. However, to this day, dishes containing civets, snakes, and pangolins are consumed across China. Risks to human health are embedded in the consumption of wildlife.

The logic is simple: Ban the demand and the supply chain will cease to exist.

China’s policies seem to be in response to human health outbreaks and emergency outcries. As such, the long-term scope of bans, and their enforcement regulations, often remain unclear. The time is now to create proactive, lasting legislation. 

Education has the power to ignite the desire to value wildlife alive, and the paradigm of thought that values wildlife alive more than dead will have ripple effects on the way that young generations view their relationship with nature. Let’s work together to bring back species from the brink of extinction and preserve them as our planet’s heritage for future generations to enjoy.

Whether pangolins served as the conduit for COVID-19 or not, it is time to halt the demand for the most trafficked mammals worldwide. Let us hope that this new ban is the first in a series that ultimately ban all endangered wildlife usage for consumption, as status symbols, in TCM, and beyond. The future of the most trafficked mammal in the world depends on it.