The scaly anteater, which looks like an artichoke with legs and a tail, is being eaten out of existence as its tasty meat is served up at banquets across Asia, conservationists said on Tuesday.
The pangolin, resembling a pine cone on legs, is the world’s only scaly mammal. It uses the scales as armour and uses its long, sticky tongue to catch prey.
The mysterious mammal is the prey of poachers with more than one million believed to have been snatched from the wild in the past decade.
In an update to the authoritative red list of endangered animals, all eight species of the anteater were upgraded to threatened status by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
According to experts at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the demand for pangolins native to Asia has been so great that poachers are now turning to Africa, where four of the species are found. Conservationists say there is already evidence of an underground, intercontinental trade in pangolins between Africa and Asia.
More than a million are believed to have been illegally caught over the last decade.
In fact, this scaly anteater has become the world's most illegally traded mammal, which has led the IUCN to step up conservation efforts in Asia and also Africa where traders are turning to meet the growing demand.
Why does it matter?
Conservationists want to save the pangolin from the dinner table and the annals of extinction as they are highly evolutionarily distinct. Extinction would wipe out 80 million years of evolutionary history.