Asia’s appetite for pangolin scales has skyrocketed in the past few months and drastic action is needed to prevent the extinction of pangolins.

The people of Asia can’t seem to get enough of these animals, despite a 2014 international trade ban on them. Pangolins are in high demand because of the false belief that their scales have medicinal properties that can cure ailments. Already pangolins are a threatened species and are believed to be the most poached and trafficked animal in the world.

Four types of pangolins live in Africa and weak law enforcement by African governments is fueling poaching of all of them. If the world takes much longer to end pangolin poaching, it may be too late. The Science Mag reported that in the past few months there has been a record surge of pangolin poaching, and the numbers continue to rise. In January, 8.3 tons of pangolin scales were seized in Hong Kong, one of the largest confiscation of scales ever. This represented 13,800 animals that were being shipped from Nigeria to Vietnam. In the same month, thousands of pangolin scales were confiscated in Uganda in a shipment that is believed to have originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In February, custom officers raided a warehouse in Malaysia where 1,800 boxes containing 30 tons of frozen pangolins and pangolin parts were found. In December, Malaysian authorities incinerated 2.8 tons of seized pangolin scales found on a shipment from Ghana and Cameroon.

Among the major exporters of pangolin scales are Nigeria and Cameroon.

Research reveals that 400,000 to 2.7 million pangolins are hunted annually in the forests of six Central African countries. The Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) states that between 2000 and 2013, more than 1 million pangolins were traded illegally, but recently it has been stated that these figures may have been too conservative.

Pangolins are easy targets for poachers and hunters. Their scales are made of keratin and are used as a defence mechanism. When faced with danger, they curl up in a hard ball. One of the reasons the pangolin population fails to grow at a fast rate is because they give birth to one offspring a year. They also get stressed easily and die in captivity.

Conservation group WildAid reported that there had been a drastic decline in pangolin sightings. Since 2014, all eight pangolin species in the world have been classified as threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

David Barritt, chief campaigner for Network for Animals, called on decision makers to come down hard on poachers to curtail pangolin poaching. “Governments throughout Africa need to realize how serious the problem is and that extinction looms for these animals unless they act to prevent poaching and smuggling,” he said.