Sharp criticism of Chinese pangolin extinction claim

The assertion that the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) is “functionally extinct” has stirred up a new round of fierce criticism this week. 

At a conference in Nanjing on Monday (25 October), the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCDGF) repeated the claim it had first made in 2019. Li Binbin, a conservation scientist at Duke Kunshan University, responded that no peer-reviewed scientific study has reached such a conclusion. “Advocacy cannot be based on false and misleading information,” she later wrote on Weibo. “Please do not destroy public trust in conservation efforts.”

Li’s criticism echoed through the conservation community. Many agreed that the Chinese pangolin is critically endangered but that declaring it extinct is irresponsible. Gu Yourong, a Capital Normal University professor, wrote that such a declaration requires careful and extensive monitoring and research. 

Some observers question CBCDGF’s motives for the claim. The foundation has been campaigning in recent years for the introduction of Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica) to the Chinese wild, on the premise that the Chinese pangolin is extinct. The Malayan pangolin is considered alien to most parts of China. 

CBCDGF responded on Weibo that its declaration has promoted pangolin conservation in China, ramping up urgency and prompting the state to elevate the species from Class II to Class I protections. It also suggested critics are either “misinformed” or “have interest groups behind them.”

Listen to our podcasts on pangolins in China from last year.