Pangolin – The Most Trafficked Mammal In The World

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The only mammal in the world, covered in scales. Due to this they often get compared to being a reptile, instead of a mammal. Pangolins are shy, curious and nocturnal. A Unique group of insect-eating animals that feed mainly on termites and ants and they have become one of the most trafficked mammals in the world.

Devastating to read, especially once you get to learn more about this beautiful, slightly weird but majestic animal. Pangolins are about the size of a house cat, with small heads, long snouts, and thick tails. These prehistoric mammals, which have been around for 80 million years, are now threatened with extinction.

A Sunda pangolin returns to the wild after undergoing rehabilitation by 1StopBrunei Wildlife Clinic in Borneo. Photo: M. Shavez/1StopBrunei Wildlife

Tens of thousands of pangolins are poached each and every year, where they get killed for their scales that are typically used in traditional Chinese medicine and for the rest of their body, the meat has become a delicacy among some of the ultra-wealthy in China and Vietnam.

There are eight species of pangolins. Four can be found in Asia (The Chinese, Sunda, Indian and Philippine pangolins) – These four are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. The remaining four are African species, more commonly known as the ground pangolin, giant pangolin, white-bellied and black-bellied pangolins. Our African species are not listed as critically endangered, but they are listed as vulnerable and great precautions are currently in place to try and stop the trade and trafficking of pangolins in order to not get to the critical status of their Asian counterparts.

Pangolins are being killed for a variety of uses from medicine to luxury goods. Their scales are often turned into a powder or paste and are believed to be used for anything from arthritis, lactation, convulsion, and menstrual pains to also things such as financial rituals, or spiritual protection. However, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims at all.

Pangolin scales are made from keratin, which is the same material from which human fingernails and tetrapod claws are made from. When threatened by a predator, a pangolin may curl up in a ball, and the sharp scales on the tail may be used to lash out. The scales are sharp, providing extra defence against predators

Pangolins and armadillos are both mammals, like us humans, but they are not considered close relatives to one another. Pangolins and armadillos do look similar, but pangolins are actually more closely related to dogs, cats, and bears than they are to armadillos.

A single pangolin can consume 70 million insects per year.

The word Pangolin actually comes from ‘penggulung,’ the Malay word for roller – the action a pangolin takes in self-defence. A startled pangolin will cover its head with its front legs, exposing its scales to any potential predator. If touched or grabbed it will roll up completely into a ball, while the sharp scales on the tail can be used to lash out.

Shaun Zietsman

Blogger and Content Creator from Johannesburg, South Africa.

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