Pangolin scales are made of keratin, a protein, just like rhino horns, or human fingernails and hair. While many people consume the scales or horns in the belief that they have medicinal properties, there is no evidence to back up that keratin is effective in curing or helping any ailments.
“Superstitious belief kills pangolins,” Panjang says.
In 2016, the legitimate international trade in pangolins was banned under CITES, the global convention on the wildlife trade. But the illegal trade persists, and pangolin populations are still declining despite protections in place. In addition to their scales, they are also killed for their meat and their leather.
The COVID-19 pandemic also put a spotlight on the scaly mammal, Panjang says. It was speculated early on that pangolins were a possible transmission source of the coronavirus from other animals to humans. But, to date, there’s no evidence to back up this claim.