Pangolins---the most trafficked mammals in the world---are one step closer to getting legal protections in the United States that could help reverse their slide toward extinction.

In a settlement approved by a federal court today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to consider listing pangolins as “endangered” under U.S. federal law, in response to a petition filed by the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, and other animal and environmental protection groups. At present, only one of the world’s eight pangolin species receive such protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act; the settlement reached today will pave the way for all eight species being listed under the ESA.

The agency has until June 1 next year to act on our petition.

This is an exciting outcome, and it follows year of legal efforts by our teams here at the HSUS and HSI, and our partner organizations, to save pangolins. In 2015, our coalition filed a petition urging the USFWS to list all eight pangolin species as endangered, because threats against these animals have escalated to even more dangerous levels in recent years due to a growing demand for their meat and scales in East Asian medicine, as well as deforestation and habitat loss. These threats led the International Union for Conservation of Nature to uplist several pangolin species from “endangered” to “critically endangered” last year. Unfortunately, the USFWS failed to act on our petition for four years, so earlier this year we filed a lawsuit along with our coalition partners to force it to do so.

We are happy that our lawsuit pushed the agency to finally commit to taking prompt action on our petition.

It is critical that the United States moves to protect pangolins because there’s a thriving market for pangolin parts and products on our soil. A 2015 HSI investigation uncovered U.S.-based companies selling “medicinal” pangolin parts and products online to American customers, and HSUS and HSI have also documented pangolin scales for sale in shops in Portland, Oregon and New York City. Between 2004 and 2013, U.S. authorities seized at least 29,000 pangolin products, almost all “medicinal” products.

It is estimated that more than one million pangolins were poached between 2000 and 2013.

The case for protecting pangolins is a strong one, and HSI has worked relentlessly toward this goal for years now. In 2016, our delegation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) worked to secure the support of 183 member nations to give the highest level of protection to all eight pangolin species, banning the international commercial trade in pangolin parts. HSI organized public awareness campaigns to reduce demand for pangolin parts in China and Vietnam and has supported the rescue and rehabilitation of pangolins in South Africa.

Today’s court settlement puts the ball in the U.S. government’s court. Delay is no longer an option, and by giving pangolins the strongest protections under our federal law, our nation will establish itself as a leader in the fight against an illegal trade that is driving these shy but charismatic mammals to extinction. We urge the USFWS to heed the overwhelming evidence showing that all pangolins must be protected under the ESA.