TV dramas in China could be further spurring endangered pangolin trade

Protective amulets are being made from the endangered animal's claws

The Sunda Pangolin (Image by benvironment)

The Sunda Pangolin (Image by benvironment)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Demand for byproducts made from one of the most trafficked animals in the world has been piqued in China due to the growing popularity of an originally rather niche interest.

The pangolin, labeled by National Geographic as “the most trafficked mammal you’ve never heard of,” has several species native to Africa and Asia, all of which are protected under international law, and some of which are regarded as “critically endangered.” Pangolins have traditionally been poached for their meat by local populations and scales for sale in China, where they are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Now, a newfound cult interest in tomb-raiding web stories and online TV dramas has created a new demand in China for pangolin claws, which are made into “protective” amulets that are worn to drive away evil spirits.

Chinese state media outlet Global Times published a report on Wednesday outlining the new craze and the potential effect it is having on the already rampant destruction of some of the world’s most endangered animal species.

Global Times reports tomb-raiding dramas have gradually reached widespread popularity in China following the 2006 release of an online fantasy novel called Ghost Blows Out the Light, and a number of TV programs and movies that sprung up in the past 10 years. Central to many of these stories are characters using amulets made from carved pangolin claws to exorcise evil spirits.

The decorative amulets—known as “mojinfu”—are springing up across the country’s physical and e-commerce markets. Although many of those sold on online shopping platform Taobao are imitations made from dog or wolf tooth, real pangolin parts are common in antique markets throughout the country.

CNA reports animal conservation NGO TRAFFIC found items made from the scales and claws of African pangolins selling up for to 2,000 RMB (NT$9200) at such markets.

TRAFFIC researchers discovered some of the items were traditional decorative ornaments including brushes and combs, but when inquiring on other less-identifiable accessories, were told by market vendors that they were “mojinfu,” designed to protect the wearer from evil.

International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates within the past 10 years, at least 1 million pangolins have been poached. The animal’s plight is lesser-known than that of other mammals including elephants and rhinoceroses, despite the fact that 10 pangolins are poached for every one rhino.

China banned commercial ivory sales in 2018 but is yet to address its pangolin problem. Traditional medicine experts are urging vendors to consider equally-effective alternatives.