The most-trafficked animal on Earth isn’t a species of rhino or elephant—it’s the pangolin. If you’re not familiar with these unusual creatures, they’re badger-sized mammals native to Africa and Asia that resemble walking pinecones. According to some areas of traditional Chinese medicine, their scales can cure cancer, which makes the pangolin a valuable commodity in Asia. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) recently made a move that could help save the vulnerable species from extinction: As NPR reports, commercial trade of the pangolin is now officially banned under international law.

The 183 nations attending CITES came to the decision Monday, September 26, during the summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. All eight species of pangolin are now designated as "threatened with extinction" and protected under the strictest trade regulations the committee can grant. "This is a perfect example of when the international community can come together for a species that truly needs help, and enacts strong, global regulations that can make a real difference," Mark Hofberg, assistant campaigns officer at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in a statement.

Pangolins have long been hunted for their scales, and lately they’ve been receiving the same attention for their meat. The animal is seen as a delicacy by the Chinese and Vietnamese middle class, and in some cases it’s the dish of choice when celebrating a business deal.

When threatened, the pangolin curls up into a tight ball to protect its face and armorless underbelly. This might provided adequate protection against most wildlife, but it leaves them defenseless against human poachers. According to Hofberg, "This decision gives real hope that extinction of pangolins may be prevented."

[h/t NPR]

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