Tomorrow is World Pangolin Day. Every third Saturday in February is devoted to this most critically endangered animal. The pangolin is a scaly anteater, a mammal, about the size of a cat, covered in small scales, with no teeth and a very long tongue. They primarily eat ants and other insects, and are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity. There are eight species in Africa and Asia. But not for long. Like rhinos, they’re among the most targeted living creatures on earth, and a great deal of the demand comes from China and Vietnam, or Chinese and Vietnamese nationals living elsewhere. And like rhinos, they’re targeted for myths; in this case, that their meat and scales have medicinal or other properties when consumed. Like rhino horn, pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same thing as your hair and fingernails, which science has not found to have medicinal or other values.
All eight species of pangolin are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. The pangolins of Asia are under enormous threat and rapidly disappearing, so the ones in Africa are now increasingly killed to supply Chinese and Vietnamese consumers. In 2016, CITES – the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, upgraded them to Appendix 1 status, the most protected. It has done little to stem the violence against the toothless animals that don’t bite and curl up in a ball when scared. Some nations are trying, though. Malaysia, the New Straits Times reported, this week announced a total ban on hunting of the Sunda pangolins there. But it’s counterbalanced by the discovery in Taiwan this month of a shipping container with 1300 tons of de-scaled and disemboweled pangolins… that reportedly came from Malaysia and represented 4,000 killed animals. In nearby India, wildlife NGO Traffic reported this week a study showed 90 pangolin seizures in India over a nine-year period. And news source Orissa Diary quoted Ravi Singh, CEO of WWF-India who said “The large number of pangolins in illegal wildlife trade is alarming, as a population decline of pangolins could lead to serious ecological imbalance. Pangolins are considered farmer’s friends as they help to keep a check on populations of ants and termites and help improve soil quality.”
Martial Arts film star Jackie Chan has joined the effort to save them as well, starring in a video you can see online called Kung Fu Pangolin, to help conservationists Wild Aid spread the word that when the buying stops, the killing stops, too. For World Pangolin Day tomorrow, perhaps take time to learn about this truly vulnerable creature. The world’s most threatened animal, the Pangolin, could really use a helping hand.
Here's another video where you can learn more about this special animal: