Pangolin released into wild under China's new protections

Full Screen
1 / 3

In this photo taken June 11, 2020, and released by CBCGDF, Sophia Zhang, a staffer from China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, or CBCGDF, collects oral and nasal secretion sample for testing from the Pangolin named Lijin at the Jinhua wild animal rescue center in eastern China's Zhejiang province. (CBCGDF via AP)

BEIJING – Activists in China have released a pangolin into the wild to celebrate new protections for the armadillo-like animal whose numbers in the country have dropped to near extinction levels.

Volunteers had rescued and rehabilitated the pangolin nicknamed Lijin after it was found by a fisherman in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang.

“This is a good start … but this is not good enough,” said Zhou Jinfeng, secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Fund, the group behind the lone pangolin’s release on Thursday.

Just last year in Zhejiang, authorities arrested 18 smugglers and confiscated 23.1 tons of pangolin scales sourced from an estimated 50,000 creatures, according to Chinese state media.

After volunteers unlocked a transport crate, the foot-long pangolin crawled onto the lush forest floor outside Zhejiang's Jinhua city. It’s brown scales and pink paws quickly disappeared in the emerald underbrush.

“We will release a lot more soon,” said Zhou, who has vowed to free all pangolins in captivity in China.

The U.S.-based group Save Pangolins said China’s granting of top-level protected status earlier this month was “a massive win for pangolins” after years of weak enforcement of existing restrictions. Pangolin scales are an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine and its meat is considered a delicacy by some.

Environmental groups say that poachers had regularly circumvented the original regulations to sell illegally hunted pangolin scales and meat, often sourced from Africa and Southeast Asia.