U.S. Pelly Amendment Can Tip the Scales in Pangolins’ Favor

Recently, President Biden issued a letter to Congress stating that the Chinese government has failed to adequately curb the trade of illegal pangolin products, which undermines the effectiveness of pangolin conservation measures from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Pangolins are the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world, largely due to the consumption of their scales in China and other Asian markets for traditional medicines. Decades of rampant pangolin poaching spurred by this continued trade have caused all eight species of pangolins to be threatened with extinction.

A pangolin captured by poachers.

In his recent letter, which invokes the Pelly Amendment of the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Fisherman’s Protective Act, President Biden has given the Chinese government until December 31, 2023 to comply with CITES policy by completely shutting down its domestic market for pangolins and removing all pangolin parts from their national list of approved medicines. If China fails to do so, the US government will impose economic sanctions on China and embargo certain Chinese products from importation into the US.

A cache of pangolin scales confiscated from wildlife traffickers.

Araluen “Azza” Schunmann, Director of the Pangolin Crisis Fund, was featured in a recent Mongabay article discussing the monumental potential that this action represents for pangolin conservation. The Pelly Amendment was used once before in the 1990s to help ban the importation of rhino horns, so there is a successful precedent for its use to advance wildlife conservation. If China complies with President Biden’s notice, it could significantly diminish the largest driver of pangolin poaching around the world. But it’s not just on China to act—if President Biden does not keep his word in the event that December 31 passes with no compliance from China, then his letter will be nothing more than an empty threat, which could cripple future efforts to curtail global wildlife trafficking.

“President Biden has the chance to definitively move the needle with the Pelly Amendment—but the failure to do so could be unimaginably damaging, not just for pangolins, but for all endangered wildlife, present and future,” says Schunmann.

A Chinese pangolin pup whose parents were rescued from poachers.

For deeper analysis of this major development and more history on the Pelly Amendment, read more about this pangolin conservation news from Azza’s perspective.

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