• "It takes just one move to protect pangolins," reads a campaign poster featuring Jackie Chan. (Photo: WildAid)

  • Pangolins are poached for their scales and meat. (Photo: WildAid)

Jackie Chan is imploring the world to save its most trafficked mammal: the pangolin. Sometimes referred to as a ‘scaly anteater’, the pangolin is critically endangered, and a new campaign starring Chan aims to increase public awareness of the pangolin's plight. Playing off the title of 2008 animated film Kung Fu Panda, the Kung Fu Pangolin campaign was launched by WildAid and the Nature Conservancy.

A study published earlier this year estimated that over 400,000 pangolins are traded each year from central Africa alone. Pangolin meat is a featured delicacy on certain menus, while their scales (which is mostly made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails) is a sought-after substance by practitioners of traditional chinese medicine. In 2016, all eight species occurring from Africa to Asia were given top conservation priority by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which also banned their international trade.

“Using a celebrity like Jackie Chan who’s very popular in Asia really helps bring awareness to the people who don’t already know about the species,” says John Baker, Managing Director for Programs at WildAid. “We are trying to end the actual root cause of this issue.”

The market in Asia is especially fraught, as an increase in wealth has led to a wider demographic being able to afford the expensive products. The campaign aims to quell this demand by informing consumers about the pangolin’s protected status through a national hero.

Billboards across China and Vietnam will be plastered with Chan’s conservation message. A promo-video shows Chan trying to teach pangolins a karate chop, only to find their only defense is to curl up into a ball, making them easy pickings for poachers. “When the buying stops, the killing can too,” says Chan in the video. 

Baker says awareness projects like Kung Fu Pangolin have previously been quite successful, as demonstrated by campaigns against shark fins and ivory. Demand for shark fins is estimated to have decreased by over 50% in China, while in the past two years public awareness for the illegal ivory trade increased by 50%.  “We’re geared and it’s our mission to end this illegal wildlife trade in our lifetime,” says Baker.