NAIROBI, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Wildlife conservationists on Friday called for strict measures to protect small and scaly pangolins, the world's most illegally traded mammal in danger of extinction.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) decried that while these armored creatures once inhabited vast portions of Asia and Africa, their populations are severely dwindling due to a massive and growing demand for their scales, which are believed to have curative properties in East Asian medicine, and their meat, which is highly regarded as a symbol of status.
"Pangolins are falling prey to the ultimate predator: humans," Mark Hofberg, IFAW campaigns officer said in a statement issued ahead of the World Pangolin Day to be observed on Saturday.
Hofberg said the rate at which pangolins also known as "scaly anteaters" are being poached is unprecedented and unsustainable.
"The value we place on pangolins should be for their role in the wild, not as a status symbol. We have won some hard fought victories to protect this exotic species but more needs to be done so we don't see pangolins go extinct within our life time," he said.
Pangolins have joined a growing list of highly sought after mammals, carnivores, birds and reptiles that generate 15 to 20 billion U.S. dollars annually to criminal syndicates through illegal trafficking.
According to data analyzed by IFAW, last year there was a staggering number of seizures of pangolin scales and meat in source countries, transit countries, and market countries.
Reports available show that dating back to 2015, there have been at least 74 seizures of pangolins and pangolin products totaling about 2,300 whole pangolins (alive or dead), over 7,800 metric tons of frozen pangolin meat, and over 45,000 metric tons of pangolin scales.
"Whilst it is horrifying to think that all species are so endangered, we must hope that the new level of protection will save these wonderful animals from extinction before it is too late," said Jane Goodall, founder, the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace & IFAW Honorary Board Member.
IFAW estimates that these seizures represent approximately 42,000 pangolins poached from the wild and illegally traded.
To put that number in perspective, seizures found in the prior two years (2013-2014) represent an estimated 18,500 pangolins poached and illegally traded.
The amount seized represents only a fraction of the actual trade; INTERPOL estimates that only 10 to 20 percent of contraband is actually found by authorities.
Therefore, since 2015, based on media reports of seizures and the Interpol figure, an estimated number of 420,000 pangolins could have been poached and trafficked.