Pangolins should be considered a top priority for conservation in China, with nature reserves set up in key mountain habitats.
That's the message of scientists studying the decline of the scaly mammals in eastern China.
Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are considered to be the world's most trafficked wild mammal.
Research found numbers had dropped by more than 50% over three decades since the 1970s.
The animals are poached in Asia and Africa for their meat and also for their scales, which are sought after for use in traditional medicine.
Pangolins are now mainly confined to the Wuyi Mountains in northern Fujian province, where many rare and unusual animals are found.
Yang Li, Xiaofeng Luan and Minhao Chen of Beijing Forestry University in China say pangolins deserve more attention from scientists and local people.
"Pangolins have been listed in the list of China's state key protected wild animals as level II," they say. "According to our research and previous research, we suggest that [the] protection level should change into level I."
The scientists are calling for a monitoring network to be established in the area together with education to encourage local people to take part in pangolin protection projects.
Eight species of pangolin are found on two continents. All are protected under national and international laws, however the illegal international trade in pangolins is continuing.
The Chinese pangolin is one of four species found in Asia and is listed as "critically endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
It is found from the Himalayan foothills of Nepal down through southern China to Hainan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
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