KUALA LUMPUR: Nearly 900,000 pangolins are believed to have been trafficked across Southeast Asia in the past two decades, a wildlife watchdog said on Thursday, highlighting the challenge in tackling the illicit trade.

As the world’s most heavily trafficked mammal, the creatures are targeted for their body parts which are highly valued in traditional medicine in countries including China and Vietnam, and their meat is seen as a delicacy.

Also known as the scaly anteater, the shy, primarily nocturnal animals have been heavily poached for years in biodiverse Southeast Asia and are being increasingly targeted in Africa.

In a new report, watchdog TRAFFIC estimated about 895,000 pangolins had been smuggled between 2000 and 2019 in Southeast Asia.

It also noted that over 96,000 kilogrammes of the creatures’ scales were seized in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam between 2017 and 2019 alone.

“Not a day goes by without a wildlife seizure taking place in Southeast Asia, and all too often in volumes that are jaw dropping,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, director for TRAFFIC in the region.

In 2016 the pangolin was given the highest level of protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning all trade in the creatures is banned. Prior to that, trade was allowed under strict conditions.

But protection groups say the illicit business is still rampant and TRAFFIC called for stronger laws and penalties, and for authorities to shut down markets and online platforms selling protected wildlife.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020