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7 ways to help save the pangolin, an awesome creature trafficked by the ton

By John D. Sutter, CNN
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Sun April 6, 2014
This is Lucky, a pangolin rescued from the illegal trade in Vietnam.
This is Lucky, a pangolin rescued from the illegal trade in Vietnam.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pangolins are thought to be the most-trafficked mammals in the world
  • Conservationists fear that they could go extinct before people realize they exist
  • John Sutter offers seven ways for readers to make sure that doesn't happen
  • Help a group in Vietnam create a pangolin PSA, and fund worthy research

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- It's thought to be the most-trafficked mammal in the world, but few people know that it exists. I recently introduced CNN Digital readers to the pangolin as part of my Change the List project, which focuses on bottom-of-the-list issues and places.

See all of the pangolin stories at CNN.com/Change.

The pangolin is a rare, scale-covered animal that rolls up into a ball to protect itself from predators and has a tongue that's longer than its body. It would be a shame if it went extinct simply because people are trafficking it for its meat and scales, which are ground up and used in traditional medicine in Vietnam and China. That could happen before people learn how interesting and important it is. I hope you'll use your voice to advocate for this loveable underdog.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

Here are seven ways you can help save the humble pangolin.

1. Fund a pangolin PSA in Vietnam

At least 10,000 pangolins are thought to be trafficked illegally each year. The trade, of course, would end if we could figure out how to curb the demand for pangolin in Vietnam and China, the two main consumer countries for pangolin products. The good folks at Education for Nature Vietnam, based in Hanoi, are trying to do just that -- and they will produce a pangolin-focused public service announcement to air on television in Vietnam if they can raise $5,000 for the effort. That's just to cover the costs of production.

Donate here: There's a link at top right for pangolin donations.

I'll let you know whether enough money is raised to create the ad.

Doug Hendrie, a technical adviser and manager of the group's wildlife crime and investigations unit, told me the PSA would be finished this year or early 2015. The PSA probably would focus on curbing demand for pangolin scales, which are easy enough to find a traditional medicine shops in Hanoi, even though selling the animals is illegal.

The group has a history of making these PSAs and has produced them for a number of species (here's one called "Killing tigers will not impress anyone") but never the pangolin.

2. Support other worthy organizations

Environmental groups, on the whole, are doing far too little to support pangolin research and conservation. That's partly because they think the public loves all of the conventionally cute animals -- rhinos, tigers, elephants -- but doesn't care about oddballs like the pangolin. Help change their minds by donating to these CNN-vetted groups that are working to help stop the pangolin trade and are funding research to learn more about these secretive animals.

TRAFFIC: the wildlife trade monitoring network

Wildlife Conservation Society (pangolin donation page)

Annamiticus

Education for Nature Vietnam

3. Petition Disney: Get a pangolin in an animated film!

Part of the pangolin's problem is that it's just not popular like the animals that end up in Disney Pixar cartoons. If more people cared about the pangolin -- or even knew that it existed -- it might find a certain level of protection in celebrity. If someone starts a petition asking Disney Pixar to make a cartoon with a pangolin in it, I'll sign it, share it widely and put the link here. You can do that in a few clicks at Change.org or We the People.

The pangolin would make a great cartoon character: shy, curious and able to roll down hills like a basketball. The heroic introvert!

UPDATE: Sign this reader-started Change.org petition: "Help beautiful and mysterious pangolins by featuring them in an animated movie!"

4. Read "Roly Poly Pangolin" to your kids

Anna Dewdney, author of the "Llama llama" series of children's books, wrote a fun little book called "Roly Poly Pangolin," about a shy animal that learns to find a friend. A portion of the book's proceeds go the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program at Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam, which rescues pangolins and prepares them for release back into the wild.

5. Spread the word: Help us make the pangolin popular

Disney's great, but -- also -- who needs Disney? There are plenty of things you can do on your own to spread awareness about the pangolin. Share this story. Share the main piece in this series -- "The most trafficked mammal you've never heard of" -- and share these some of these educational (and entertaining) pangolin resources:

IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group: A group of researchers and conservationists dedicated to finding out more about the pangolin and raising its international profile.

• Honey Badger II: The guy behind that viral honey badger video made a new (hilarious) video about pangolins as part of this CNN project. Check it out on his YouTube channel.

SavePangolins.org: A great website with lots of info about what makes pangolins unique. It also has other ideas about how people can get involved.

6. Demand better law enforcement in Southeast Asia

In Vietnam, it wasn't hard at all for me to find pangolin scales and meat for sale. And in Indonesia, I heard that parks have only a small fraction of the rangers they would need to adequately protect the pangolin and other endangered wildlife. Bribes and corruption are commonplace. Help pressure these countries to take the illegal pangolin trade seriously. They could shut it down with more funding and effort. Currently, this species is too low of a priority.

Two groups working to do that are TRAFFIC, which operates throughout Southeast Asia, and Education for Nature Vietnam, a nonprofit in Hanoi. Both conduct their own wildlife crime investigations and work with authorities to break up these networks.

7. Submit a better name for P26, a pangolin in Vietnam

The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program released a pangolin named P26 into the wild in late March. What kind of name is that? It sounds like a robot.

Help come up with a better name for the pangolin. CNN readers are basically adopting this little guy, and we'll be following his journey as he acclimates to the wild.

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