It was February 2019. Officials in Malaysia had gotten a tip. Someone was sneaking illegal goods into the country.
Police went to a factory and a warehouse. They found 30 tons of meat and scales from pangolins.
Pangolins are native to Asia and Africa. It’s illegal to buy or sell them. But that doesn’t stop smugglers. Malaysian police have taken more than 13 tons of pangolin scales from smugglers since 2017.
A pangolin has scales. They help protect it from predators.
NIGEL DENNIS—GETTY IMAGES
Pangolin scales are made of keratin. It’s the same material your hair and nails are made of. In parts of Asia, the scales are made into powder. It’s used as medicine. But there’s no proof that it works.
About a million pangolins have been killed in the past 10 years. People who kill them are called poachers. Soon, pangolins may be gone forever.
The British royal Prince William is president of United for Wildlife. The group works to protect animals. In a video, William says: “Pangolins risk becoming extinct before most people have even heard of them.”
WildAid is another group that works to protect animals. It tries to stop people from buying pangolin scales.
But countries in Asia and Africa must help too. Peter Knights leads WildAid. He says governments need to stop poachers and smugglers. “The problem is ultimately in the hands of the countries where pangolins live,” he says.
Customs officers in China guard illegal pangolin scales.
ANTHONY WALLACE—AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Pangolins are illegally traded all around the world. Most pangolin products are smuggled out of Africa. Some end up in Europe and the United States. But where do most illegal pangolin products go? Asia. Seven of the top 10 places involved in pangolin trafficking are found on that continent. Some of them are labeled on this map.
MAPS BY JOE LEMONNIER FOR TIME FOR KIDS