A staffer from China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, or CBCGDF, swabs a pangolin for testing. (AP)

A staffer from China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, or CBCGDF, swabs a pangolin for testing. (AP)

A worker holds the Pangolin named Lijin before it’s released from the wild animal rescue center in China’s Zhejiang province. (AP)

A worker holds the Pangolin named Lijin before it’s released from the wild animal rescue center in China’s Zhejiang province. (AP)

The staffers at CBDGDF help the pangolin get better so it’s not vulnerable to poachers trying to catch it illegally. (AP)

The staffers at CBDGDF help the pangolin get better so it’s not vulnerable to poachers trying to catch it illegally. (AP)

Pangolins live in parts of Africa and Asia, but when they are stolen they are smuggled mostly to China. (AP)

Pangolins live in parts of Africa and Asia, but when they are stolen they are smuggled mostly to China. (AP)

Lijin Goes Free

Posted: September 1, 2020

Volunteers unlock a crate outside the city of Jinhua, China. A foot-long animal named Lijin crawls out. Its brown scales and pink paws quickly disappear in the emerald underbrush. Go, Lijin! Go!

Lijin is a pangolin. What’s a pangolin? The word sounds like a bird’s name, but the pangolin has very little in common with the penguin. Its mega-long tongue begins in its abdomen. One thousand scales protect its body. Is it an armadillo? An anteater? A reptile? Nope, nope, nope. It’s a mammal found in Asia and Africa.

People love pangolins . . . a little too much. Some eat them as a delicacy. Many also use pangolin scales to make ancient Chinese medicine. Poachers have nearly wiped out China’s native pangolins. Over the past five years, volunteers have found only five pangolins where hundreds of thousands lived just three decades ago. Some pangolin types are in grave danger of extinction.

A fisherman found Lijin in eastern China. Volunteers rescued the pangolin. They brought the animal back to health, and now they’re releasing it into the wild.

“This is a good start,” says Zhou Jinfeng. He is the secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Fund. He adds: “But this is not good enough.” He wants all captive pangolins in China released.

This spring, China gave pangolins top-level protected status. That’s great news for pangolins. The laws mean, No raising pangolins in captivity. That’s a good rule. In captivity, pangolins normally die from stress or stomach trouble. The laws also mean, No selling pangolin scales to make medicine. That’s a good rule too. Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same stuff in your fingernails. Medicine-makers grind pangolin scales and put the powder into pills. Does this medicine really soothe arthritis? Does it make children stop crying? Can it cure deafness? Pangolin-pill buyers say yes. Science says no.