Out of the eight species of pangolin found in Asia and Africa, two are listed as “endangered,” two are classified as “critically endangered,” and the other four are registered as “vulnerable” — a horrifying tally for the scaly mammal often described as a “walking pinecone.”
The main reason for the sorry plight of this unusual creature, thought to be the most-trafficked non-human mammal in the world, is that its scales are very much sought after for the making of human and veterinary medicine, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). According to National Geographic, a 2016 report by the nonprofit China Biodiversity and Green Development Foundation explains that pangolin scales are used in 60 commercially produced medicines from over 200 pharmaceutical companies.
But an announcement from the Chinese National Healthcare Security Administration at the end of August may be turning the tide for the pangolin. Traditional medicines containing pangolin scales will no longer be covered by Chinese insurance started in January 2020.
Whether or not the decision is an effort to protect the animal is unclear, but such an announcement in a country like China, where what the authorities say goes, could have enormous positive repercussions on the conservation status of the pangolin.
The same announcement also removed medicines made with hawksbill sea turtles, sea horses, coral, and saiga antelopes from the list of drugs eligible for coverage.