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Last Saturday was World Pangolin Day – a celebration I’m much more willing to get behind than Valentine’s Day. Now if you’re thinking “what in the hell is a pangolin?!!” then you’re in for a treat – because pangolins are more or less the most awesome animal alive.
Imagine a sloth crossed with a tank. This, my friends, is a pangolin.
The pangolin (also called a scaly anteater or trenggiling) hails from parts of Asia and Africa, and has been likened variously to an armadillo, a pine cone, and an artichoke– amongst other things. To the Pokemon generation, however, it will forever be a real live Sandslash.
The pangolin is the only mammal in the world with scales, and can range from 30 centimetres to a metre in length depending on the species. It tends to live a solitary life, living in hollow trees or burrows, hanging from branches by its tail, eating insects with its absurdly long tongue, and rolling up into an ball like a gigantic woodlouse when threatened.
Since most people have never even heard of a pangolin, let alone seen one, it might surprise you to hear that this scaly critter is the most trafficked mammal in the world. Nope – not the rhino, the tiger or the elephant, but the unassuming and little-known pangolin.
The pangolin’s problem is that its meat is considered a delicacy in China, and its keratin scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine – the scourge of many an endangered animal. The New York Times reported last year that customs officers seize thousands of the creatures from poachers every year, as well as tonnes of pangolin scales and skins – not just in Southeast Asia but also in Africa.
Though most countries have laws against their capture, pangolins have now been hunted to the brink of extinction in many places, and are now considered critically endangered. There’s a distinct chance they could have vanished from the earth before most of us have even heard of them! World Pangolin Day is an effort to rectify this injustice, and to raise awareness of the plight of these funny-looking but really quite lovely little creatures.
Want to help?
One of the places doing valuable work to protect pangolins (not to mention a whole host of other rare wildlife) is the Phnom Tamao Conservation Centre near Phnom Penh, which you can visit on our Indochina Conservation trip. The money you pay to visit will go directly toward helping the centre protect Cambodia’s rare wildlife from poachers and the illegal pet trade, but if you want to help in other ways, this web page has a variety of excellent suggestions.
Want to know more?
This list of amazing facts about pangolins comes from pangolins.org:
1. There are 8 pangolin species: 4 in Africa & 4 in Asia
2. A pangolin’s tongue is longer than its body
3. A pangolin can eat 70 million ants in a year
4. Pangolins have no teeth – they “chew” their food with gravel and keratinous spines inside their stomachs
5. Pangolins can close their ears and nostrils to stop insects getting inside
6. Pangolins mark their territory with urine, faeces, and smelly secretions from a special gland – kind of like a skunk
7. Pangolins carry around their young on their backs and tails
8. 20% of a pangolin’s weight is scales
9. Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same thing our fingernails are made of
10. Tens of thousands of pangolins are killed every year for their scales and meat 🙁
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