“Around the world , 300 Pangolins are stolen from their wild habitat per day”

I am no zoologist, nor am I an expert on Pangolins, the knowledge I am passing on has been lifted from just two websites of many I have read. 

Once upon a time, back in the mid 90’s, I briefly worked for The Born Free Foundation.  The project I was working on was situated in a very small jungle (can you call a palm forest a jungle?) on the edge of a beautiful beach in Kenya.  Here I met a lovely lady, a dedicated zoology graduate who had just spent some considerable (and very uncomfortable months) working with a Pangolin conservation charity in West Africa.   She was passionate about these creatures, her conversations and facts fascinated me. My first question to her was “What is a pangolin?”. Funnily enough, when I talk about the plight of the Pangolin now,  people ask me the same question and the memory of my conversations with her remain so vivid. Why don’t we know more about them?

WHAT ON EARTH IS A PANGOLIN? 

If one crosses a very shy and very friendly diplodocus with an anteater – cover it with smooth triangular scales, shrink it to around the 3ft mark and there you have a beautiful Pangolin.  

WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?

Most people associate Pangolins with Africa.  However, there are eight species of Pangolin, half of which live Africa, and the other half spreading across India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Taiwan, Philippines and China.  There are eight different species, all of which are critically endangered.   

WHAT DO THEY EAT?

This is a good word for your crossword notebook, ‘insectivorous’.  Isn’t it a wonderful word? Insectivorous! Of course, the meaning is in the word – their diets consist of delicious little insects such as termites and ants.  In order to find a meal, they depend heavily on their sense of smell and hearing because they have such bad eyesight. They have strong front claws on their legs which they use to dig around in the ground to forage.  Their long comical tongues also assist them in probing inside tunnels for insects. As these darling animals do not have teeth, they ingest small stones that help them in grinding up insects in their stomachs. They also use their strong tails to curl around branches in order to remove bark from the trunk, thus exposing the ants inside.  It is said that they consume as much as 70 million insects per year! 

WHY DO WE LOVE THEM SO MUCH?

Their behaviour is almost comical, their beguiling movements are so endearing.  Pangolins are nocturnal and are rarely seen during the day. They sleep curled up in a circular ball as they do when they see a predator and they simple roll off as though they are a wheel.  Have a look on You Tube and see for yourself. They are brilliant swimmers too!

FALLING IN LOVE

I’m afraid not.  The males find a lovely lady, make their baby and then slinks off.  Pangolins like to live alone – they are very solitary creatures. Gestation is around 140 days, and once the baby is born, it will live on its mothers back.  When the baby is around 2 years old – it too will say Goodbye and go and live a quiet life alone.

PREDATORS

There are several aspects of the Pangolins body that make them specifically susceptible to predators.  However, their bodies also have a unique ways of fighting back. While Pangolins are unable to bite as they do not possess teeth, they are capable of using their sharp scales as weapons by curling up into balls, exposing the sharp edges of their scales to their enemies.  Lions, leopards and tigers are all natural predators in the wild. However, there is one species who are the biggest threat of all – and sadly that is us. Humans.

WHY ARE PANGOLINS ENDANGERED?

Pangolins are the most trafficked animal in the world.  They are poached for their meat, and are considered a delicacy in some places.  Their bodies generally sell for a high price on the black market which encourages the trading of these animals. 

Many body parts are often used in traditional medicinal practices.  It is believed that their body parts, including their scales have healing properties.  I read an article the other day that Chinese alternative medicinal practices believe that they hold a cure for cancer, asthma and impotency. Thankfully scientific studies have knocked that one on the head. There are many so called ‘professionals’ who still believe that the scales hold magic.   The poaching of Pangolins remain persistent and the species are closer to extinction. Around the world , 300 Pangolins are stolen from their wild habitat daily.

WHY WE NEED PANGOLINS IN OUR LIVES

Pangolins are soil caretakers.  Their large long claws enable them to burrow underground whilst foraging and excavating ant and termite nests for food.  In doing so, the soil is mixed and aerated. This of course improves the nutrient quality of the soil and aids the decomposition cycle providing a healthy platform for juicy vegetation to grow from.

An American researcher claims that billions of dollars are spent repairing termite damage and treating and preventing infestations.   If Pangolin poaching were to stop, imagine that not only would our eco system be maintained, but also a lot of money could be saved! 

ABRIDGED FACTS FROM WWW.PANGOLINS.ORG AND WWW.WORLDATLAS.COM

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