(CN) – Fighting for the dwindling lives of a lesser known species, wildlife conservation groups sued the Trump administration on Wednesday in hopes of adding pangolins to the list of endangered species.
“These odd, adorable animals may look like pinecones with legs, but the massive trafficking in pangolin parts is no joke,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “If poachers keep killing thousands of pangolins a week, they’ll disappear in decades. The Trump administration needs to help protect these unique creatures from exploitation and extinction.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is joined in the lawsuit by the Humane Society, Born Free USA and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They are challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s alleged failure to protect the scaly critters from poaching.
The 25-page complaint filed in Washington, D.C., federal court accuses the Trump administration of not responding to petitions urging the U.S. to list all eight types of pangolins as endangered.
Currently, only one pangolin species is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The conservation groups argue that the remaining seven varieties found in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia need the same status because they are illegally traded for possessing the same features.
“The United States’ delay in listing these species belies its role as a leader in combating poaching worldwide,” Adam Peyman, programs and operations manager for Humane Society International, said in a statement.
According to the complaint, at least 26,000 pangolin product imports were seized in the U.S. between 2004 and 2013. The conservation groups also say some U.S. stores and online businesses openly sell products that contain pangolin parts.
“The U.S. market for pangolin products feeds poaching and trafficking in the countries where the animals are found. By giving all pangolin species the Endangered Species Act protection they desperately need, the Fish and Wildlife Service will have the tools it needs to stop U.S. trade in pangolin parts,” said Peyman, who co-authored a 2015 petition to protect pangolins.
The conservation groups say the pangolin is the most trafficked mammal in the world despite their obscurity and a 2016 ban on international commercial trade.
Treated as a delicacy and used in various traditional medicines in China, the artichoke-shaped animal is rapidly dying out at the hands of humans, the groups say.
“Pangolins taken from the wild are mostly destined for markets in China and Vietnam, where it is erroneously believed that pangolin scales cure a range of ailments, and where pangolin meat and fetuses are consumed to display social status and wealth,” the complaint states, adding that more than a million pangolins were poached for meat and scales between 2004 and 2014.