The 47 second video spot was released last week to support a ban on all international trade in pangolins that was approved last year under the UN CITES treaty. The video, entitled “Kung Fu Pangolin,” and accompanying billboards will be distributed widely in China and Vietnam, which are the main pangolin consuming nations. It features Chan training the scaly anteaters to protect themselves from poachers using kung fu, but he finds that curling up is the only thing they are able to do. Behind Chan’s back the pangolins develop ninja-like skills to defend against a would-be poacher.
While many people may have never heard of pangolins, they are the most heavily trafficked mammals on the planet. An estimated one million have been poached from the wild over the past decade.
In some countries, pangolin meat is consumed as a delicacy, and the animals’ scales are used in traditional Asian medicine. These shy, nocturnal creatures are seldom seen, but are often hunted down using dogs. When threatened, pangolins instinctively curl into a ball rather than try to escape, making them especially vulnerable to poaching.
“It’s crazy in this day and age that people are still eating these wild animals and threatening them with extinction. I hope we can persuade people that it’s the wrong thing to do,” Chan said.
“The priority for pangolin conservation is reducing consumer demand and improving enforcement,” said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. “Jackie reaches a vast audience across Asia and there are clear signs these campaigns have had an impact and attitudes are changing. Shark fin imports to China went down 81% in three years. Ivory seizures there were down 80% last year, and ivory and rhino horn prices have fallen by more than 50%.”
However, pangolins are heavily smuggled from Africa and Asia. Central African forests alone may be losing 400,000 pangolins per year to poachers, according to a recent estimate. As pangolins do not often survive in captivity, let alone reproduce, commercial breeding is not a viable option to supply the medicinal trade.
Pangolin scales are sometimes used in traditional Asian medicine for the treatment of rheumatism, skin disorders, wound infections and even cancer. Like rhino horn, pangolin scales are largely composed of keratin, the same protein found in human hair and fingernails. Pangolin meat is served as a delicacy in some exotic meat restaurants.
Earlier this month, officials in Malaysia seized 8 tons of pangolin scales. In June, Hong Kong customs officers seized 7.2 tons of scales, and late last year Shanghai authorities intercepted 3.1 tons, which represented up to 7,000 pangolins.
WildAid, along with partner organizations The Nature Conservancy and China Wildlife Conservation Association, premiered “Kung Fu Pangolin” at a Beijing press conference last week.
The Nature Conservancy China Chief Conservation Officer Zhao Peng said: “Pangolins are one of the oldest mammals on Earth. A pangolin weighing just 3kg can help protect roughly 16 hectares of forest from being overrun with ants. Protecting pangolins is not just about saving an endangered species, but also about healthy ecosystems.”
Also at the event, the China Wildlife Conservation Association awarded Chan the title of Wildlife Conservation Ambassador in recognition of his contribution to the protection of wildlife. Chan has worked with WildAid on projects since 1995.
The animated pangolins were created by the leading special effects house Tau/PHD Films, which did the CGI work for the film “Life of Pi.”