Saving the world’s most trafficked animal

(CNN) – The world’s most trafficked mammal is getting some much needed protection.  183 governments have agreed to ban all international trade on Pangolin parts.

For a desert there’s a surprising amount of wildlife, but what we’re after, is nearly impossible to find.

Out here, in the vast Kalahari, it’s like searching for a ghost, “They are so quiet and so shy most of the time so you could drive past one and not even know it is there. You could walk past one and not even know it is there,” a radio tracker gives researcher Wendy Panaino a fighting chance.

She’s seen more wild pangolins than perhaps anyone, “My heart is racing right now.”

Very little is known about these creatures she knows every sighting is important with its tightly interlocking scales acting as armor, the pangolin has no real effective predators in the wild.

It’s the very same scales that make it the world’s most trafficked animal.   In Asia, Pangolins have been decimated by poaching, where the scales are falsely believed to have medicinal benefits.

“If we want to save them and do something about their numbers declining, understanding them gives us a chance,” said Panaino.

So far, the remoteness of the Kalahari has kept this population safe, but the trade has arrived in Africa.

“The future for pangolins is looking incredibly bleak. If trafficking carries on the way it is not, they may have 20 to 25 years left to be on earth,” said Ray Jansen.

At a bio-bank in Pretoria, researchers study confiscated samples from Chinese customs.

Drilling down into Pangolin DNA using forensics to combat trafficking.  Newly announced trade restrictions are meant to protect Pangolins.

“To put it out on the ground and to stop things like the bushmeat market and the illegal trade in animals is incredibly difficult to enforce,” said Ray Jansen.

So the stock of the seized pangolin scales continues to increase, while sightings in the wild become more special.

“It’s an absolutely tragic thing, they are so rare and so unique. I mean just look at that, look at that face,” said Panaino.

The tragedy knowing an extraordinary animal could easily vanish before it’s fully understood.

Copyright CNN 2016