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Scaly Anteater - Ground Pangolin
Credit: David Brossard (string_bass_dave on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Pangolin, Manis javanicaPiekfrosch at the German language Wikipedia / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 UnportedThis week, I didn't have to look for inspiration - inspiration found me. Paw Mane Fin's own Amy Lizee sent me an article by Katie Jones about the pangolin.

You might recall Amy was instrumental in helping 100 horses in Armstrong, B.C. find good homes.

The pangolin is a shy, solitary, mostly nocturnal insect-eater. It can consume seven million ants and termites in a year.

I like the description that Brian Stallard of Nature World News gave them, he wrote they "resemble a cross between an armadillo and an artichoke."

And they are comical to watch. I think they appear to be planning something sneaky; wringing their hands (paws) close to their chest as they scurry about on their hind feet.

You'll see what I mean in the 2:24 minute clip (shown next), narrated by Sir David Attenborough, from BBC's Life of Mammals series.

African Pangolin

Published on Dec 2nd, 2012 by lifeonearthclips

Why on Earth Are These Creatures Being Hunted?

Pangolin - San Diego ZooElizabeth Krumbach Joseph on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericNot only is pangolin meat a delicacy in China and Vietnam, but as Martin Fletcher pointed out his BBC News article, there are 'no pangolins left in great swathes of South East Asia - so now Africa's pangolin populations are being plundered.'

They are also consumed in many parts of Africa and are considered a popular type of bush meat. 

I was appalled at the extent that these harmless creatures are being hunted - dead or alive.

Apparently, live pangolins fetch the most money for traffickers. Martin Fletcher wrote:

"One restaurant owner explained that a live animal could be brought to our table, where its throat would be slit, and the blood served as an aphrodisiac."

In Hanoi, a serving of pangolin meat can cost upwards of $250 USD.

Who Is Buying Into This Malarkey?

It turns out that in Vietnam, wealthy businessmen and senior government officials order pangolin to celebrate a deal or flaunt their status - one of the same reasons that rhino horn is also consumed in that country.

Other Ridiculous Reasons Pangolins Are Hunted

Scale Coat Indian, Rajasthan, early 19th centuryGaius Cornelius on 08-Jun-06 / Public DomainUnfortunately, pangolin blood, bones, fetuses, and scales (made of keratin, like human fingernails and four-footed animal claws), are believed to promote good health or cure a wide array of conditions and diseases such as: acne, cancer, to stimulate lactation, or to detoxify the body.

According to Havocscope, consumers roast the pangolin scales and then eat them.

What stunned me more was this statement in Worldwatch Institute's post on February 13th, 2015. In their report, Illegal Pangolin Trade Threatens Rare Species, it says:

"Pangolin scales may be used in clinical treatment and in the manufacturing of patented Chinese medicines."

And, only designated hospitals are allowed to use the pangolin scales; they aren't supposed to be sold commercially. Well good luck with that, I thought.

The problem is that for thousands of years, pangolins have been a staple of traditional Chinese medicine. And, as you can imagine, traditional beliefs can be difficult to address and dispel in some cultures. Sadly, I found out that stuffed pangolins are even sold as souvenirs.

And these notions are not just traditional Chinese beliefs either. In Ghana, West Africa, 13 body parts of the pangolin are used to treat various ailments by traditional healers. I discovered in a PLOS ONE research article that pangolins were used in Ghana for "spiritual protection, rheumatism, financial rituals, and convulsions."

I wonder what the financial ritual entails - besides causing money to disappear from the person that purchased the pangolin "cure."

In Sierra Leone (also West Africa), 22 parts of the pangolin are used to treat ailments and conditions listed under 17 international categories of diseases. According to a research article in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, pangolin scales were used the most - particularly for spiritual ailments; while pangolin eyes had the highest 'level of consensus' among traditional practitioners in the area.

Another way pangolin scales were used, at least once, is shown in the photo (above right). It's a pangolin scale coat decorated in gold (on display at the Royal Armouries, Leeds, UK) which was presented to King George III in 1820 by Francis Rawdon, 1st Marquis of Hastings (1754 - 1826).

Pangolin
Credit: Leigh_A Murrell on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Are There Any Proven Medicinal Properties?

Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) in central Democratic Republic of the CongoBy Valerius Tygart (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsI searched exhaustively to find just a shred of evidence to support the belief that consuming any part of the pangolin could help human health.

The short answer? No. Pangolin meat or eyes or scales have no medicinal value. They are simply an expensive placebo.

In the PLOS ONE research article I referenced earlier (published January 20th, 2015), researchers concluded:

"The cultural belief system is most likely to be the driving force for the maintenance and continued use of pangolins in urban environments for medicinal purposes."

As in the case of rhino horn, the keratin in pangolin scales "does not support the plethora of claims about its healing properties."

A Pangolin Can Protect Itself From Three Lions

But Not From Man

Pangolin defending itself from lions attack, Gir Forest, Gujarat, India
Credit: Sandip Kumar / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Fascinating Pangolin Facts

An excellent resource where I found many of these facts is Project Pangolin. I highly recommend visiting their website to find out more about these fascinating, precious creatures.

  • Pangolin Flat OutMarc Eschenlohr on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThere are eight species of pangolins; four in Asia and four in Africa.
  • Pangolins are the only animal covered in scales (except for their bellies).
  • When threatened, pangolins simply curl up into an impenetrable ball (shown in photo above).
  • If caught, pangolins are known to thrash their tails around. Since their scales have sharp edges, they can cut a predator (or human skin). They sometimes release a stinky fluid from their glands as well.
  • They rarely survive in capativity and can only be found in six zoos around the world.
  • Their tongue is almost as long as their body. Since they have no teeth, pangolins store stones in their stomach (to help grind up their food).
  • Pangolin mothers carry their babies around on their tails and curl up round them to protect them.
  • Some pangolin species are excellent tree climbers and can hang by their tails from branches.
  • A pangolin's scales comprise about 20 percent of its body weight.
  • The name pangolin is derived from the Malay word pengguling which by loose definition means "something that rolls up."
  • For most pangolins, their tongues arise from the last pair of their ribs and are approximately 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) thick. Their tongues can be as long as 16 inches (over 40 cm).

Long Tailed Pangolin (Manis longicaudata)Cliff (nostri-imago on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

  • Incredibly, pangolins can close their nostrils and ears to keep insects out while they are eating.
  • Pangolins have a strong sense of smell but poor vision and hearing.
  • The giant ground pangolins are the largest and one has been recorded to weigh 72.6 lbs. (33 kg). Long-tailed pangolins are the smallest and typically weigh 4 to 6 lbs. (2 - 3 kg).
  • According to the IUCN Red List, all pangolin species are experiencing declining populations.

4th Annual World Pangolin Day is February 21st, 2015

World Pangolin Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in FebruaryFacebook PhotoI was delighted to find out about World Pangolin Day on the Project Pangolin website.

It's a day where animal lovers and pangolin enthusiasts can come together to educate the public and raise awareness about these unique mammals - and their plight. 

Project Pangolin even has devoted a Facebook page where you can learn more, see current footage of pangolins, and even win prizes (like a colourful T-shirt).

In my search to find out the numbers of trafficked pangolins, on page 7 of The Annamiticus Quarterly (Dec. 2013), these statistics were a stark reminder:

  • 40,625 to 81,250 pangolins are estimated to have been killed in 2013
  • The three main countries where pangolin trafficking occured were: Vietnam (by 31 percent), China (by 27 percent), and the Philippines (by 25 percent). There are 10 other countries listed as well. The China-Vietnam border is a problematic region where trafficking occurs. 

And in 2014, Annamiticus reported at least 17 pangolin trafficking incidents over six Asian countries: China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, and Thailand.

Most recently, in a brilliant piece by John D. Sutter of CNN, the estimate of pangolins taken from the wild in the last decade is about 1 million. Prince William (shown via video) delivered a heartfelt plea, stating, "The pangolin runs the risk of going extinct before most people have even heard of him." 

An Ecological Problem Too

I think most of us can agree that every species on Earth deserves to live and keep their natural habitat. The dire consequence of losing a species, like the pangolin, will undoubtedly affect the insect population in these countries. A population explosion of ants or termites could be be detrimental to humans and other species - and their homes, eventually.

Lastly, enjoy a 3:20 snippet of an adorable newborn pangolin at the Taipei Zoo in Taiwan:

Newborn Pangolin Baby

Published on November 6th, 2014

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