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The Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) has long suffered from intense exploitation driven by consumer demand for medicinal use and food. Our research found that the distribution of Chinese pangolins has decreased by more than 50% since the 1970s. On the other hand, we also find that climatic conditions may be a neutral factor or, in some cases, may be positive, while the reduction in the distribution of Chinese pangolins is mainly driven by human disturbance. We believe that Chinese pangolin protection should focus on reducing the impact of human disturbance. But this is not enough.

In the future, we propose to enhance the protection measures in China to ensure areas where the Chinese pangolin occurs are adequately protected. This includes the following activities:

1) Field investigations should be launched in southern China, especially in areas with potential to conserve Chinese pangolins, such as Wuyi mountain, Yunnan Province, and Guizhou Province, as well as other locations.

2) More research. Additional research is needed on the Chinese pangolin, especially foundational research to better understand its basic biology and ecology in order to inform further conservation measures.

3) Within nature reserves, enforcement should be scaled up and ecological monitoring programmes should be established which can help ensure existing pangolin populations are adequately protected, and to ensure that protective measures are being effective.

4) Participation of local people. Mechanisms to ensure the buy-in of local communities to support pangolin conservation will be investigated. For example, transfer payments linked to protection policies and community education to provide stronger support for the protection of Chinese pangolins concentrated in mountainous areas.

However, we should highlight that the Chinese is still used in traditional Chinese medicine, and which is driving the illegal exploitation of pangolin populations in many places. Protecting this species is not a strict conservation issue, but it is also a social issue. A multi-faceted approach encompassing law enforcement around protected and community areas, education and efforts to change consumer behaviour will be needed in order to effectively conserve this species in the future.

Li Yang, Beijing Forestry University, P.R. China

To read the research in full, see the following:

Historical data for conservation: reconstructing range changes of Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) in eastern China (1970–2016)
Li Yang, Minhao Chen, Daniel W. S. Challender, Carly Waterman, Chao Zhang, Zhaomin Huo, Hongwei Liu, Xiaofeng Luan. .