In A Strange Twist of Fate, Could Trump Help Save the Pangolin?

Image: Adam Tusk/Flickr

by Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

A new legal petition filed by conservation organizations urges the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to “formally certify China for illegally trading in critically imperiled pangolins,” the Center for Biological Diversity wrote in a statement

If certification occurs, the US could pursue sanctions and prohibit wildlife imports from China. 

Why This Matters: Pangolins are endangered and are increasingly victims of illegal wildlife crime—mainly in Asia and in growing amounts in Africa, according to WWF. But, as Rebecca Beitsch reported for The Hill, this petition comes at a time when the animal is being examined as a “possible intermediary host” of COVID-19. This petition could be used by Republican lawmakers as a means to mete out punishment to China for the current global pandemic. As Beitsch wrote, “imposing broad wildlife sanctions on China would be an unusual move for an administration that isn’t known for offering more protections for endangered species.” 

The Plight of the Pangolin: Pangolins are small, scaly animals, and represent the most trafficked mammal in the world. Their meat and scales are used medicinally in many different parts of the world, including in traditional Chinese medicine. Pangolins are also considered by many to be a delicacy. They are consumed despite the fact that trafficked animals are known to carry zoonitic diseases as well as other bacteria and parasites that are harmful to human health. 

But, since 2017, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species prohibited the international trade of pangolins. Despite this, as the Center for Biological Diversity explained, the seizure of pangolins has “increased tenfold” in the past six years. Despite this prohibition, many say that “there needs to be more pressure on Beijing to ensure it cracks down on the black market.” 

Impact of Certification: What would happen if the Trump administration moves forward with certification? According to The Hill, President Trump “could decide to prohibit importation of all wildlife from China,” which would represent a “significant financial blow” to the country. 

However, as of now it is unclear whether the Trump administration would move forward with this. As Bill Reinsch, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Hill, “Trump does not approve everything that comes to him, but it’s probably only a matter of time before they notice this one, and someone is going to say, ‘Hey here’s another way we can go after them.” 

To Go Deeper: Read the Legal Petition to Certify China 


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