It is not only rhinos, elephants and tigers that are on the verge of disappearing, although it goes without saying that this should be taken seriously. Other, less newsworthy, animals are suffering the same fate, such is the case of the pangolin: a small scaly mammal!
What is a Pangolin?
This mammal is only found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and Asia, and there are currently 8 species weighing from 2 to 35 kg and measuring between 30 and 80 cm.
Thanks to their giant sticky tongue they only eat termites and ants (up to 70 million a year!). They scavenge through termite mounds, elephant dung, fallen leaves, tree trunks, grass and bushes in search of their food.
A relatively unknown animal, this armored knight knows how to defend himself against most of his predators. Encased in a thick shell, he withdraws into it to avoid danger. He becomes untouchable (even the big cats leave him alone!). Unfortunately for him, he is only able to reproduce once a year with a gestation period ranging from 6 to 8 months.
A highly valued delicacy
Pangolins used to be hunted in Asia for leather which was sold in Japan or the US, but this trade was stopped in 2000. Indeed, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) put an end to this practice for pangolins in Asia, of which 2 species are critically endangered.
But the trade of pangolins doesn’t stop there; ma now preys on his flesh. In China and Vietnam, pangolin has become a luxury dish, with the price reaching 3000 dollars for 4 kilos! The worst is how this little mammal is killed. A “good” chef cuts the animal’s throat in front of the clients to collect the blood (which is then eaten in a soup or pudding), whilst the pangolin is then boiled, grilled or fried.
Alas, the sad truth of the matter is, even though Appendix II of CITES states that they have been « protected » since 1994, the pangolin remains one of the most poached mammal groups in the world. In fact, according to the IFAW (International Funds for Animal Welfare), over 1.12 million of pangolins have been victims of poaching, a figure equivalent to 120 000 animals killed per year!
An imaginary medicine
Besides the culinary aspect, this adorable mammal is poached for its scales. According to urban legends, they can be used to fight against water retention, asthma or even enhance the blood circulation (you might as well say that it can be used for anything). According to Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, “14% of Vietnamese eat pangolin meat and 5% use its scales for medicine […] When a child gets sick, his parents suggest eating pangolin rather than modern medicine”.
It’s important to remember that pangolins’ scales only contain keratin protein and that their medical virtues have never been proven, and will probably never be.
In late August, over 650 specimens were found frozen on Java island in Indonesia. On a bigger scale, a seizure of 4.4 tons of scales were discovered by the authorities of Hong Kong on a cargo ship from Cameroon in June 2016; a contravention of the law which estimated to have been worth 1.13 million euros.
What does the future look like for Pangolins?
The 17th Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora opened on September 24th in Johannesburg in South Africa. Over 200 countries decided to either toughen or loosen laws on over 500 animal species. This year, the pangolin is on everyone’s mind. The issue in question: putting this mammal on Appendix I of CITES. This decision would completely prohibit all forms of trade of the animal.