The 19th of February is a special day in Wild Life Conservation. It is a day dedicated to spreading the word about the pangolin. Although pangolins are not very well known, they are one of the most threatened animals on earth.
The name pangolin derives from the Malay word “penggulung”, which means “one that rolls up”. When threatened a pangolin will curl itself into a ball to protect itself from predators. They are well protected by their scales that very few predators succeed in killing them. Only large predators like lions, leopards and hyenas are powerful enough to break through the tough keratin scales but still with difficulty.
A Pangolin’s diet consists of ants, termites and other invertebrates. A single pangolin can consume close to 20 000 ants a night. That is over 7 million ants in a year. They have long sticky tongues used to catch ants and reach far inside ant nests. The tongue is longer than the animal’s head and body. Certain pangolins tongues are over 40cm long. They don’t have teeth and can’t chew. They have keratinous spines in their stomach. Consuming stones helps to grind up the food and assist with digestion.
They have three claws on each foot which they use to rip into ant and termite nests. One of the pangolin’s more unusual adaptations is that they can close their ears and nostrils, which helps protect them from ant attacks. This means that their nostrils are open when hunting and closed when feeding.
There are eight pangolin species worldwide, four in Africa and four in Asia. All eight species are threatened with extinction and are listed as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Their scales are made of keratin, just like human nails and are sought after especially in China and Vietnam.
They are hunted for meat, for use in traditional medicine and fashion accessories. Over a million pangolins have been poached over the last decade. Their meat is considered a delicacy, while their scales are believed to treat a range of ailments like asthma, rheumatism and arthritis.
World pangolin day is a great way of raising awareness about these amazing creatures and especially about the threats that they nowadays face.
Story by: Kapama Karula Rangers