I was so busy watching the pangolin happily slurp up dead ants that it took me a few minutes to realize it was missing one of its back legs. I was at the Pangolin Rehabilitation Center outside of Phnom Penh, which CI helped open in 2012 to provide a temporary home for “scaly anteaters” like this one that was rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
Once prevalent across much of Africa and Asia, pangolins are among the most trafficked animals in the world. Their scales are popular components of traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat, blood and fetuses are considered delicacies in parts of Asia.
Animals that end up at the Pangolin Rehabilitation Center have often been subjected to horrible treatment. After they have been nursed back to health at the center, many can be released back into the forest. However, those that have lost limbs due to injuries from snares — and are now unlikely to survive in the wild — reside permanently at the center.
The illegal wildlife trade not only leads to the decline of species like pangolins — as well as elephants, rhinos, tigers and many others. It is an immensely complicated practice that damages important habitats, jeopardizes ecotourism and other activities that people depend on for their livelihood and threatens international security by funding terrorist and other criminal groups.
This week in London, two important meetings are focusing on finding real solutions to this immense problem. The Zoological Society of London is hosting a symposium put on by United for Wildlife — a collaboration created by the Royal Foundation, which is led by the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William). This partnership brings CI and six other conservation organizations together to discuss lessons learned and determine the best ways to engage young people in the issue and ultimately end the wildlife trade.
In addition, British Prime Minister David Cameron will host the highest-level conference ever on illegal wildlife trafficking, with more than 50 heads of state expected to attend.
These meetings come on the heels of other developments which indicate that the global community is increasingly acknowledging the seriousness of this issue, including the September Clinton Global Initiative commitment through which a number of nations and NGOs voiced their support to end the ivory trade. Just yesterday, the U.S. government released its national strategy for combating wildlife trafficking, which highlights the direct connection between the illegal wildlife trade and national and global security threats, and includes a U.S. ban on commercial trade in elephant ivory.
Here’s hoping that these verbal commitments will soon translate into action. The future of the pangolins — and all the other beings on our planet — depends on it.
Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature.