This week it’s a two-part Helping Hand special ahead of Saturday’s World Pangolin Day, a day designed to give visibility to the world’s most trafficked animal, the pangolin. The Global Environmental Reporting Collective is a team of international journalists who have, since late 2018, been investigating a massive increase in pangolin trafficking seizures. Ironically, it comes at a time that pangolin consumption in China is making news as a potential contributor to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. HPR All Things Considered Host Dave Lawrence spoke with Patrick Boehler, co-founder of the project. Their work can be found online at pangolinreports.com, an interactive website where users can click through to both learn about the pangolin’s plight, but also follow smuggling routes tracing the shipments, criminal syndicates, traders, businessmen and police their journalists found to be complicit in the trade. Among numerous reports are the extensive "Trafficked to Exinction" report and "Malaysia: The Pangolin and the Dark World of Trafficking", presented in an online storybook format.
The pangolin is the only scaled mammal, a reclusive, toothless animal that’s only defense is rolling up in a ball. All eight species are facing an extinction level threat primarily driven by demand for their scales. The investigations from the Global Environmental Reporting Collective showed nearly all of this demand comes from consumers in China, where the legality of pangolin consumption remains complicated, though there have been recent reports China may completely ban the sale of pangolin-related products. The demand has led to Chinese pangolins becoming functionally extinct, and driven poaching to epic levels anywhere pangolins are found in nature, garnering the eight surviving species the highest level of protection by CITES, the Convention in Trade of Endangered Species, to little effect. They report that in the last two years the number of pangolins being intercepted in smuggling busts far surpasses any prior period, with individual shipments dwarfing the numbers of previously documented seizures from even a few years ago.
The journalists at pangolinreports.com found, despite the highest levels of protection, pangolin seizures have skyrocketed in the last two years, leading conservationists to warn of a rapid threat of extinction. Several Asia Pacific countries play a role in both the sourcing of pangolins, and as transit stops on the way to China, according to their reporting, often enabled by corrupt law enforcement, big businessmen, and savvy internet traders employing the Chinese social media platform WeChat.
Pangolins have recently been reported by some Chinese scientists to have been an intermediate host for COVID-19, the deadly coronavirus that originated in China. Chinese officials have said the virus came from a wildlife market in Wuhan, and from animals that are prohibited for sale.
Patrick Boehler is an Executive Editor at Switzerland’s public broadcaster, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, and their online platform, swissinfo.ch.
Contact the Global Environmental Reporting Collective:
We’ll air part two on Friday, and post the complete nearly hour-long interview.
See a 2019 documentary on the pangolin poaching crisis, Eye of the Pangolin:
Helping Hand puts the spotlight on an organization, topic or event that supports people with disabilities and people and animals that are among the most vulnerable. It airs as part of All Things Considered and is archived online here.