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Pangolin PSA will air in Vietnam because of CNN reader donations

By John D. Sutter, CNN
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN readers donate more than $17,000 to an environmental group in Vietnam
  • The group says it will use the money to create a public service announcement for the pangolin
  • John Sutter recently featured the pangolin as part of his Change the List project
  • The scale-covered mammal is being trafficked by the ton for its scales and meat

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- "Remember: When the buying stops, the killing can, too."

That's retired NBA star Yao Ming appearing in a 2009 public service announcement aimed at stopping people in China from consuming shark-fin soup. Yao and other people sitting in a fancy restaurant push their shark dishes forward as a narrator explains that "each year up to 70 million sharks are killed to end up" in that delicacy.

It's an important message, and an overlooked one. Much of the effort to combat the global illegal wildlife trade, which United for Wildlife values at $5 billion to $20 billion per year, has focused on additional park rangers and dismantling crime networks.

That's important. Somewhat lost, however, have been efforts like those from Yao and WildAid, the group that produced that PSA for China, which are trying to unplug the wildlife trade from the demand that feeds it.

Cut wildlife demand and rhinos, elephants and sharks live.

There's evidence that tactic is seeing success.

"People said it was impossible to change China, but the evidence we are now getting says consumption of shark fin soup in China is down by 50% to 70% in the last two years," WildAid Executive Director Peter Knights told The Washington Post. "It is a myth that people in Asia don't care about wildlife.

"Consumption is based on ignorance rather than malice."

I find that news encouraging, and it's one reason I'm overjoyed that a group called Education for Nature Vietnam has pledged to make a public service announcement about the pangolin to air in that country later this year or early next.

After I featured the pangolin as part of CNN's Change the List project, readers donated more than $17,000 to that group in hopes it would make such a PSA. The group, based in Hanoi, Vietnam, had said it would need $5,000 to cover production costs.

The ad wouldn't be happening without you.

The pangolin is thought to be the most trafficked mammal in the world. Few people in the West know it exists, but it's trafficked by the ton for its scales, which are used in traditional medicine, and for its meat, which is a delicacy in Vietnam and China.

The Vietnamese ad likely will focus on curbing demand for pangolin scales, said Doug Hendrie, adviser of Education for Nature Vietnam's wildlife crime and investigations unit. The extra CNN reader donations not used to create that ad will be used to boost the group's efforts to break up the pangolin trade and out restaurants and medicine shops that are illegally selling pangolin products.

Hendrie said he was overwhelmed by the response. He called his wife at 3 a.m. to tell her about the flood of donations.

Education for Nature Vietnam has produced and commissioned a number of public service announcements aimed at curbing local demand for wildlife, but never one for the pangolin, which generally doesn't get the funding of the more "charismatic" wildlife species, either because it is little known or isn't thought to be as cute.

The group's PSAs try to create associate social shame or stigma with the consumption of wildlife products, Hendrie said. One, for example, shows a business meeting in which a man gives his colleague tiger bone as a gift.

He looks up to see his co-workers are leaving the room.

"Using tiger bone glue won't impress anyone," the ad says.

"Don't embarrass yourself."

"We are extremely happy to see the response," he wrote in an e-mail to me, "and surprised as well."

I'll second that. I'm humbled by your generosity. The world is a weirder and more interesting place because the pangolin exists.

And your kindness is upping the odds this creature will survive.

For more on this project, visit CNN.com/Change.

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