Plight of the Pangolin

Have you heard about the scaly little mammal that can roll itself up into a hard impenetrable ball to protect itself from predators such as lions and leopards? The pangolin is a captivating creature that slightly resembles an armoured anteater but is considered much cuter, and unfortunately much rarer. Pangolins are one of the most trafficked animals in the world and it’s because of their distinctive scales which are actually meant to protect them.

When a Pangolin is rolled into a ball, its face and belly are protected by its hard scales. Lions and other predators are unable to bite or claw through this shell which makes it an excellent defence mechanism. However, it has quite the opposite effect against human poachers. A human can simply pick up the pangolin while it is rolled up and drop it in their bag. The very scales that protect the pangolin from animal predators is what endangers them from human predators. These scales are highly sought after in Asia, specifically, China and Vietnam and people will pay up to $600-$1000 per kilo. They are believed to have medicinal properties and eating pangolin meat is seen as a status symbol. The scales are made out of keratin, the same substance as human fingernails so any medical benefits attributed to them are completely unfounded.

Pangolin rolled up into a ball to protect itself from predators. (Image cred: Interesting Nearby)

There are 8 species of Pangolin in the world, in Zimbabwe, you will only find the Temminck’s Ground pangolin. They are incredibly rare creatures and if you have the opportunity of spotting one on your safari consider yourself very lucky! Pangolins are nocturnal creatures who feast on ants and termites, they are however not related to anteaters despite their similarity in diet and relative resemblance. Pangolins do not have teeth and are unable to chew their food, they use their long sticky tongue catch the insects they feed on. They are the only mammals who have scales and are very ancient creatures, the earliest pangolin fossils that have been found date back to the Eocene epoch, 35 million to 55 million years ago, shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

A Pangolin’s tongue, when fully extended, can reach 40cm. (Image credit: National Geographic)

These unique animals are not really widely known and many people are surprised when they first see or hear about them, and are even more surprised when they discover that they are endangered. In fact, pangolins are the most poached animals in the world and it is essential that awareness is spread so that we can help put an end to this situation.