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Celebrating pangolins

Shara Burger | Conservation

On Saturday, 15 February, we celebrated World Pangolin Dayto acknowledge, sadly, what is believed to be the world’s most trafficked animal. There are 8 species of pangolin worldwide, 4 Asian species and 4 African species. The African species are known as the African White-bellied Pangolin, Giant Ground Pangolin, Cape or Temminck’s Ground Pangolin (recorded in Southern Africa) and the Long-tailed or Black-bellied Pangolin.

The thing that makes pangolins so unique is their scales. In a world of generally furry or tough-skinned mammals, the pangolin sits uniquely as the only species to be covered in hard keratin scales from head to toe! So, let’s dive into a few interesting facts about these scales and why the pangolin has become a major conservation concern.

  • The Malay word “pengguling” which means to roll up is where the pangolin got its name. This is because the pangolin has the ability to roll up into a tight ball when it feels threatened.
  • Once rolled up, the pangolin turns into an all but impenetrable ball of hard, sharp and spikey scales. It’s this stance that helps the small mammal evade predation, as even the likes of lions will struggle endlessly in trying to break through the scales.
  • It’s sadly also these scales, which are mistakenly believed to offer medicinal properties, that have led to the pangolin being the worlds most trafficked animal with over 1 million of the highly endangered animals being trafficked in the last decade alone.
  • There is no proof that the scales offer any medicinal value. However, in some countries, people believe that consuming the scales will help in alleviating the symptoms of arthritis and strangely enough, issues with lactation.
  • In April 2019, a customs control officer intercepted a record breaking amount of pangolin scales – almost 30 tons in two separate shipments. These scales are estimated to have come from around 72 000 pangolins according to news reports.
  • The scales are not consumed as they are naturally found, but rather dried out then ground up and finally pressed into pills.
  • Pangolin meat is also considered a delicacy in some countries.

Tanda Tula - pangolin - an endangered species

Very sadly, the above issues have led to every species of pangolin across the globe, enduring major population declines. This means that there is not a single species of pangolin in the world that is not listed as critically endangered or vulnerable. In 2016 CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) voted to ban the commercial trade in pangolins.

The safeguarding of this species has become paramount in the world of conservation as sadly it’s believed that there is a possibility of them becoming extinct before the majority of world even knows they exist. A scary thought indeed.

The pangolins are a family of animals that definitely need to be preserved. So, it is vital that we celebrate them and spread awareness about these unassuming, incredibly rare and amazing animals.

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