Excuse Me, Sire…
Pangolins are an easy target for memes on the internet. Their posture makes them look like they are always about to deliver some bad news. But they are also an easy target for poachers. In fact, Pangolins are one of the most trafficked mammals in the world!
According to the WWF approximately 116,990 – 233,980 pangolins were killed between 2011 and 2013 and it hasn’t got much better. In 2019, around 195,000 were trafficked for their scales alone.
What are Pangolins?
The physical appearance of a pangolin is marked by large hardened overlapping plate-like scales, which are soft on newborn pangolins, but harden as the animal matures. A pangolin’s scales are made of keratin, the same material from which human fingernails and tetrapod claws are made. The pangolin’s scaled body is comparable in appearance to a pine cone. They have short legs, with sharp claws which they use for burrowing into ant and termite mounds and for climbing and extraordinarily long tongues.
There are, in fact, eight species of pangolin. Four are found in Africa and four in Asia. In Africa you will find the black-bellied pangolin, white-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin and the temminck’s pangolin. Travel across to Asia and you will find the Indian pangolin, Phillipine pangolin, Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin – though probably not for much longer as they are now classed as vulnerable to critically endangered.
Though they look like reptiles, they are in fact mammals. Along with being solitary, they are also mostly nocturnal. When threatened they curl up into a ball where their sharp scales provide extra defence and they can use their sharp tail to attack predators.
Why are Pangolins so Popular Among Poachers?
Highly sought after in China and Vietnam, their meat is regarded as a delicacy and their scales are used in traditional medicine and folk remedies. They are believed to cure a range of ailments.
Can We Deliver Them Some Good News?
It’s hopeful that future generations can witness pangolins beyond just memes on the internet. In 2016 over 180 governments announced an agreement to end legal trade of the species and protect it from extinction. In June 2020 China increased protection for their native pangolin and banned the use of their scales in medicine.
Though countries are on the right path to protect these animals, Illegal trafficking is still a problem. Only time will tell if these animals will recover.