Who doesn’t love the pangolin? These scaly anteaters are curious critters with extremely long tongues and are commonly found out east. However, they have made headlines in recent years for increasingly sad reasons. Pangolins are amongst the most traded animals on the planet, often subject to meat and skin harvesting. As such, they are shrinking in numbers, and there are multiple conservation attempts set up to protect them.
They’ve even been suggested as a potential source – alongside bats – for the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019/20. As such, this is an animal which has seen its fair share of negative press over the years! Thankfully, film-makers and conservationists are always striving to turn things around for the plucky beast.
In this fact file, we’ll be taking a look at a few interesting facts about the pangolin, as well as some detail on the extent of its plight in the wild, and on the black market. It’s always good to raise awareness about creatures who are being killed mercilessly – and our aim here to ensure you know the facts – as always.
Pangolins are mammals living in Asia and Africa.
They are ant-eating, scaly animals sometimes known as ‘Scaly Anteaters’, and they are classified as being in the order ’Pholidota’.
There are eight species of pangolin alive today.
Whilst their scales protect them from many predators, they are hunted successfully by man.
An estimated one million Pangolins were killed by hunters in the decade leading to 2020, as noted by National Geographic in June 2020.
Pangolins are the only mammals covered completely by scales. The scales are composed of keratin, the same material which forms human finger and toe nails.
When under threat, these usually docile creatures roll up into a ball. This is why they have been nicknamed ’walking artichokes’! Their scales are shaped like the outer petals of the spherical vegetable.
Pangolins range in size from being around the size of a domestic cat but can reach up to four feet in length.
They eat termites and ants by unfurling their very long tongues, which can be equal to the length of their bodies!
Pangolin fathers often stay in the ‘den’ with their babies until the infants reach independence.
Pangolin babies can be seen experiencing life outside the den by taking a ‘ride’ on the backs/tails of their mothers. They do this until reaching around three months old.
All Pangolins are now considered endangered species. Being relentlessly hunted, and as their habitats are being destroyed (usually for commercial farming), it is hoped the species can be saved.
Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and is a very popular dish particularly in Vietnam and China. Here, it can fetch as much as $150 per lb!
Pangolin killing methods are known to be particularly gruesome. We’ll spare you the details – but some believe in boiling the animal to ‘improve the flavour’.
Pangolins are known to be the most ‘trafficked’ creatures in the world.
It’s thought that pangolins may have a part to play in the rise of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Trade in the animal is halted, and as a result, this may lead to a regrowth in numbers.
In China, in 1988, the ‘Wild Animal Protection Law’ set out regulations concerning the use of several wild animals, including pangolins. This officially prohibited hunting, killing, and using pangolins for food. The law was ignored by some and flaunted by others.
Traditional Chinese medicine, otherwise known as TCM, is growing in demand. Much of this medicine actually uses pangolin extract – legally or otherwise. These products can even find their way all over the world.
Some believe that the scales of the pangolin actually have healing powers. There’s little scientific evidence for this, but the mammal has been seen as a mystical creature for many, many years – with this being a key reason.
Pangolin based products have been used to aid nursing mothers with lactation, and even those with renal problems.
Pangolin bones are thought to help ease back pain, help treat strokes and rheumatism. Pangolins have also even been used in the treatment of some mental illnesses.
In Africa, too, Pangolins have been used in traditional medicine to treat a number of ailments.
For example, Pangolin heads, were once used to treat infertility in humans. Some tribal Chiefs have worn parts of Pangolins as ‘decorative or protective’ adornments, too.
In 2019, a film was released to highlight the plight of Pangolins. It is called ’Eye of the Pangolin’, and was the brainchild of Johan Vermeulen, a South African filmmaker.
The documentary highlighted the work of several wildlife protection and conservationist groups. Focusing on finding the species of pangolin living in Africa, the film sought to raise awareness and empathy for the plight of the endangered species.
In March 2020, Disney halted production of a heart wrenching film about a sick Pangolin, seeking help to find a cure and make a friend.
The film, intended for a family audience, was intended to introduce the animal to young viewers who may wish to save the creature in future.
The director of the film, Tim Logan, said it was “gutting to have to pull the plug”.
Pangolin skin handbags fetch high prices on the international market, with some sold as vintage specimens from luxury brands. As they become rarer and the species is increasingly protected, the bags are sometimes considered to be a worthwhile financial investment. However, buying these bags is funding the ongoing cruelty.
Pangolins have no teeth! There’s no need with a tongue that size!
They can live to be around 20 years old in captivity.
In the wild they are versatile and adapt to live in a variety of habitats, including flood plains, grasslands, forests, and dense woodland, in tropical and sub-tropical zones.
Pangolins are competent swimmers and excellent at making burrows, sometimes up to 40 metres long!
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about pangolins that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!