What exactly is the Pangolin?
The Pangolin, also known as the ‘Scaly anteater’ or the ‘trenggiling’ is a fascinating mammal. The ‘Pangolin’ family compromises of 8 species. Native to parts of Africa and Asia, the Pangolins are mostly caught for consumption in China, Indonesia and Africa. The name “Pangolin” is derived from the Malay word ‘pengguling’ which literally translates to ‘something that rolls up’.
While the Pangolins have been classified along with mammals such as the Xenarthra family; one that includes anteaters, sloths and armadillos, newer genetic evidence has indicated that the Pangolin’s closest living relatives are the Carnivora, a group which includes weasels, cats, raccoons, bears, and even the giant Panda. They are also classified by some Paleontologists into the order of Cimolesta, that is an extinct order of mammals.
Pangolins are covered with a natural armor of horny, overlapping scales that provide protection. These scales are comprised of Keratin. When threatened Pangolins often roll up into a ball, which by accounts out of Africa is a position that is very difficult to infiltrate or rather ‘unroll’. The Pangolins are the only mammals known to have this type of scaly adaptation. These scales make up approximately 20% of the weight of the Pangolin.
The widely unknown Pangolin, believe it or not, actually has a small place in England’s Royal History. In 1820, King George III was presented with the unique, if not unusual gift of a coat of armor made using the scales of the Pangolin.
The Pangolins are a toothless breed and while they have no ‘physical’ ears, they have a keen sense of hearing. They also have well developed sense of smell. These are traits that come in handy as the Pangolin suffers from very poor vision. Nocturnal by nature, Pangolins spend most of their days sleeping in their burrows, in the same curled ball position they use when defending themselves. Large animals such as Hyenas and Leopards are known in some instances to prey on the Pangolin.
While this rare, spectacular animal lingers at the brink of extinction, it suffers and even greater threat that lives above them on the food chain.
Like several endangered animals, the Pangolins suffer from loss of habitat due to deforestation.
The hunting and killing off Pangolins due the demand stemming from ‘purported’ healing properties has become one of the biggest obstacles between this incredible creature and the survival of it’s species.
In Africa, Pangolin are hunted and eaten and it is one of the more popular types of ‘bush meat.’
In China, Pangolin meat is a highly sought after delicacy and many Chinese believe that pangolin scales help with the reduction of human tissue swelling, while promoting blood circulation. It also believed by some Chinese that Pangolin meat helps lactating mothers produce more milk.
In Indonesia, Several traditional practitioners of Herbal medicine believe that Pangolin-fetus soup increases a man’s virility. Since Pangolin females generally produce just one pup per litter, the ‘fetal’ soup is a deadly blow to the Pangolin population.
Increased demand for Pangolin meat and scales has caused the Pangolin to be heavily and many times, brutally hunted. According to a report by wildlife conservation group, WWF ( World Wildlife fund ) in association with TRAFFIC ( an International wildlife trade Watchdog organization and the IUCN ( International Union for Conservation of nature), the Pangolin Population is at the verge of extinction.
The Plight of the Pangolin however, doesn’t end there. In parts of China, the culinary preparation of the Pangolin is a brutal affair for the slow dying animal. According to a report by The Guardian, a Guang Dong chef revealed to the Beijing Science and technology Daily exactly how a Pangolin is cooked.
According to the Beijing based chef, the animals are kept in cages until a customer makes and order. The live animal is then hammered to unconsciousness at which point their blood is drained. The chef added ” It is a slow death”. The Pangolins are then boiled, have their scales removed at which point the meat is generally cut into small pieces and used to make a variety of dishes, often soups or braised meat dishes.
According to the chef, the customers almost always request to take the blood of the animal back with them.
For a lesser known mammal, the Pangolin suffers an extraordinarily difficult fight for survival. There is big money in Pangolin trafficking.
Among the lucky Pangolins, those rescued include 31 found aboard a vessel abandoned of the coast of China in May of 2007. The vessel was also carrying 5000 endangered animals at the time of discovery.
In November of 2007, over 100 Pangolins were rescued by Thai Customs officials. The Pangolins were en route to China, where they were purportedly to be sold for consumption.
In December of 2008, approximately 5 tons of Pangolin meat was seized by Vietnamese Customs officials seized. This quantity of Pangolin meat would have come from about 1400 – 1500 Pangolins.
Society today is groomed such that we appreciate more when something or someone, has left us. Hopefully, this will not be the case for the Pangolin. Once this species joins the ranks of the Nature’s other ‘tossed away’ gifts to the planet, they, like the others, will never return.
For more on the Pangolin:
( Please note that the above link contains rather graphic pictures of Pangolin Fetus soup )