Species You Need to Know: The Most Trafficked Animal on the Planet, the Pangolin

One of the most peculiar (and adorable) creatures in existence, the little-known pangolin is the the most heavily trafficked animal on the planet. These shy, elusive beings lack the cuddle factor that tugs on heartstrings and draws media attention. This is a very disappointing reality considering this group of animals is undoubtedly facing extinction.

That’s where we come in.

In an article for CNN, John D. Sutter writes about the pangolin, “Few seem to care. International environmental groups and governments have been slow to fund pangolin research and rescue. You don’t see them on the cover of National Geographic. You rarely find them in marketing campaigns.”

What’s worse, if trends continue at their current rate, the two most endangered species of pangolin could go extinct within the next ten years (Sarah Pappin, pangolins.org).

What these animals need is worldwide attention and respect. When the demand stops, the illegal trade can too. 

Knowledge is power! So let’s learn some things, shall we?

  • Pangolins look something like a scaly anteater; In fact, they’re the only mammal in the world covered in scales.
  • They collect insects from holes and burrows using a tongue spanning nearly the entire length of their body. Lacking teeth or the ability to chew, pangolins swallow pebbles that accumulate in their gut to grind their food.
  • There are eight different species of pangolin dispersed over two continents, Africa and Asia. Every species is listed on the infamous IUCN Red List, a global list of species threatened with extinction.
  • They have very poor vision, as most are nocturnal; and they rely heavily on their senses of smell and hearing.
  • Some live in burrows while others dwell in the trees.
  • They don’t use their front feet for walking and have instead adopted a T-rex style groove. That big ol’ tail helps to keep them balanced as they walk. How can you not love them?

  • When faced with a threat, pangolins will curl up into a ball with their scales pointing outward for protection. In fact, the name pangolin comes from a Malay word meaning “something that rolls up”. This is something that makes them a very easy target for poachers; they can simply pick them up and walk off with them.
  • Mothers carry their young (usually only 1 at a time) for 120-150 days. Newborns have soft white scales that harden over a period of several days. If a mother senses danger, she immediately wraps her body around the baby to shield it.
  • Young pangolins will cling to their mother’s tail as she forages for food throughout the day.

Image: Flickr/Maria Diekmann of Rare and Endangered Species Trust

These guys are completely harmless.

So why are they facing extinction?

Despite the fact that pangolins are listed as endangered and protected by international law, pangolins have an extremely high black market value in Asia. To show off wealth and status, many individuals consume pangolin meat or use the scales for their “medicinal” value. The funny thing is, pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same protein that makes up our fingernails. That’s not something that can cure any disease.

Rhinos are facing extinction for this same reason; their horns, made of keratin, are thought to be able to cure various diseases.

Even though it’s illegal to harvest and bring these animals across borders, corrupt officials, lenient laws, and nearly non-existent penalties make it possible.

What can we do about it?

Spread the word. Educate others!

Pangolins don’t get nearly enough attention. The trade will only stop when the demand for the animals stops.

  1. If you live in or are visiting Asia, alert wildlife authorities immediately if you see pangolins being sold at any establishment.
  2. Educate others by sharing posts, pictures, and statistics. Create petitions. Sign petitions.

Start with this one: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/250/732/768/save-pangolins-from-extinction/

3. Watch this short video about one pangolin that could save the entire species:

Bring the species to light. You are their voice!

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