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The Plight of the Pangolin

Staff writer Hunter Savery ’20 explores how changing environmental factors have affected the survival of many mammal species, including the most endangered one: the pangolin.

There are countless species across the globe at risk from illegal poaching: the elephant, the rhinoceros, the lion, and the list goes on. However, most people are completely unaware of the plight of the pangolin, the most trafficked mammal on the planet. The pangolin is an adorable combination of an armadillo and a pineapple.

According to the website of Save Pangolins, pangolins are burrowing creatures that use long sticky tongues to eat ants and termites. These creatures are shy, harmless and mostly nocturnal. One of the pangolin’s notable features is that when threatened, it rolls into a tight ball. Unfortunately for the pangolin, rolling into a ball does not exactly stop poachers.

So how did the pangolin become the most trafficked mammal on earth? Pangolins have long been hunted as bushmeat, but that hardly accounts for the sharp decline in pangolin populations across the globe. New money in China and Vietnam has dramatically increased demand for exotic animals. According to National Geographic, pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are used as a part of traditional medicine. CNN reports that their blood is used as a healing tonic in Chinese medicine, and strangest of all, a pangolin fetus soup is eaten to enhance male virility.

Just how much is a pangolin worth? At a restaurant in Vietnam, a pangolin can garner $350 per kilogram. In Southeast Asia, pangolins are a delicacy, a status symbol, and believed to have medicinal properties. The role of pangolins as a status symbol is especially important in the new economies of the region.

There are eight distinct species of pangolin in Asia and Africa. While poachers initially focused on the Asian species, as pangolin populations declined, African pangolins became the next targets. The number of pangolins remaining in the wild is unknown, though populations are clearly being depleted. According to CNN, conservative estimates show 10,000 are illegally trafficked every year. Inconveniently, most poachers are not reporting their activities to the press. Annamiticus, an advocacy group, reports that the actual number trafficked over a two-year period was between 116, 990 and 233,980.

FIVE FUN FACTS ABOUT PANGOLINS

  1. Baby pangolins ride around on their mother’s tails.

  2. Pangolin tongues are over a foot long and start at the pelvis.

  3. Chinese pangolins have humanlike ears.

  4. The pangolin swings from trees by its tail.

  5. Pangolins when frightened roll up into scaly balls, baffling even lions and tigers, who can merely swat at them.

The good news is that at a recent meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, a ban was approved on trade of seven pangolin species. The LA Times reports that the agreement was reached by consensus, with only Indonesia opposing the measures. The new agreement will effectively ban all commercial pangolin trade. The tiger and rhino can step aside, it is finally time to save the artichoke with legs.

By: Hunter Savery ’20

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