Where Have All The Pangolins Gone?

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First Rhinos, then elephants and now Pangolins. Time to throw some light on another of Africa’s most endangered wonders.

The pangolin is the world’s most hunted animal and sadly we look again to the East for the culprits. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the pangolin boasts a whole host of miraculous abilities including curing cancer, preventing asthma and keeping evil spirits at bay. Those seeking such mythological cures have now rendered the prehistoric pangolin the most illegally traded animal on earth! And so, despite it’s ‘battle-ready’ appearance, the pangolin is becoming increasingly vulnerable.

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Part of Prehistory

The pangolins we share the earth with today are the result of eighty million years of evolution. There are eight species extant today and of these, two are listed as critically endangered. However, all eight species of pangolin now feature on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of animals threatened with extinction. Due to the solitary, predominantly nocturnal and highly secretive nature of these animals, relatively little is know about them. It is therefore difficult for conservationists to assess the extent of the crisis they face or how drastically their numbers are declining.

 

Pangolin Portrait

Pangolins are native to Africa, India, Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Often referred to as the ‘Old World Anteater’, they are the only mammal on earth that is covered in scales, scales made of keratin – the same substance as our fingernails or a rhino’s horn – that are too hard even for a lion to bite through. Pangolins have exceptionally sharp, strong claws which allow them to dig for ants and termites, they do not have teeth and cannot chew but their sticky tongues, which can be longer than their body, collect their insect prey. Stones and keratinous spines in their stomach aid digestion! Pangolins are predominantly nocturnal but have very poor eyesight, instead locating termite mounds and ant hills with a strong sense of smell and hearing. As a form of defence, pangolins roll up into a tight ball, protecting their faces and softer underbelly with their tough scales. They also emit a noxious smelling liquid similar to a skunk. Out of this world hey!

Out of the world maybe but IN this world they must stay – you can find out more about these exceptional and unique creatures and do your bit to help the organizations trying to save them by visiting the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group or Save Pangolins websites.

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