China removes pangolins from traditional medicine list

A pangolin in a cage in Surabaya, Indonesia, on March 27, 2019.
A pangolin in a cage in Surabaya, Indonesia, on March 27, 2019. © AFP / FRANCE 24

The pangolin, the animal some believe may have played a role in the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, will no longer be authorised for use in traditional Chinese medicine, offering a vital lifeline to the rare and endangered species.

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China removed pangolin body parts from its official list of traditional medicines, state media reported on Tuesday, just days after giving the animal the country’s highest level of protected status due to its dwindling numbers.

The move has been lauded by wildlife groups as a vital step towards protecting the species.

“This is a really significant action on the part of mainland China to help protect pangolin species around the world,” Dr David Olson, director of conservation at the World Wide Fund for Nature, told AFP.

“The traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have used pangolins for centuries as part of their prescriptions and the scales in particular,“ he said.

Pangolin scales are used in Chinese medicine for a range of ailments, including treating blood clots and aiding lactation, though there is no scientific evidence they have any medicinal value.

Demand for pangolin scales and meat have led to the animal becoming the most trafficked in the world.

In 2019 alone, more than 130 tons of pangolin parts were seized by authorities, representing up to 400,000 animals, according to figures from WildAid.

Illegal poaching has taken a heavy toll on Pangolin numbers. Of the eight species of the animal, found in Asia and Africa, three are listed as critically endangered and the other five as endangered or vulnerable.

The animal has been in the spotlight recently over a possible link to the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in China.

Studies have suggested it may have been the intermediate host that transmitted the virus to humans when it first emerged at a wet market in China’s Wuhan last year.

China has since banned the sale of wild animals for food in such markets, though their trade for medicine has remained legal.

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