ANIMALS – Vietnamese animal activist Nguyen Van Thai has been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, dubbed the “Green Nobel”, for saving hundreds of pangolins, the world’s most poached mammals.

The scales of this animal are known to act on arthritis, ulcers, tumors and menstrual pain in traditional Chinese medicine, virtues that have never been scientifically established.

Millions of pangolins have been killed in recent years, victims of large-scale trafficking, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “The number of pangolins in the wild in Vietnam has decreased by more than 90% over the past 15 years”, lamented to AFP Nguyen Van Thai, director of the organization Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW), awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize.

His team has treated nearly 1,600 of these mammals before releasing them into the wild and is developing a breeding program for the Chinese-type pangolin, facing a “high risk of extinction”. “We are the main reason for their decline and what could lead to their extinction. So in addition to my love for them, there is also an urgent need to act, to do something to protect them ”, underlined Nguyen Van Thai.

In Vietnam, poaching of pangolins punishable by 15 years in prison

Vietnam has recently stepped up its fight against pangolin trafficking. In 2018, he revised a law protecting endangered species which toughened penalties. Now, this crime is punishable by 15 years in prison and fines of over 550,000 euros.

Arrests of traffickers rose sharply last year, according to the NGO Education for Nature in Vietnam (ENV). Hanoi has also stepped up border controls and launched a campaign to verify that pharmacies do not sell drugs containing animals from illegal trade.

The pangolin was once suspected of having played a role in the transmission to humans of the coronavirus that appeared in China at the end of 2019, before scientists questioned this hypothesis. The animal was thus initially considered as the possible vector which allowed Sars-CoV-2 to pass from bats to humans. Beijing has since withdrawn it from the Chinese pharmacopoeia. Other animals were then mentioned, such as the mink or the badger-ferret, but the missing link has not been established so far.

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