The Endangered Pangolin: Africa’s Hidden Treasure

July 9, 2024
A curled up Pangolin

I have been on many safaris and have spent a lot of my time in the bush. And never have I had the blessing to see a pangolin.  There are incredibly rare and special to see.  They are so unlike any animal I am used to seeing.  It will be a dream come true if I ever see pangolins in the wild, free and off the endangered list.

The Pangolin

The pangolin is often referred to as the world’s most trafficked mammal.  Is an elusive and endangered creature found across various parts of Africa. Despite its unique characteristics and critical role in the ecosystem.  This shy and nocturnal animal faces significant threats, pushing it to the brink of extinction.

Darling Pangolin walking

What they look like:

Initially, pangolins are distinguished by their distinctive scales. Which are composed of keratin, the same protein that makes up human hair and nails. Rhino horn is also made of the same Keratin.  And is too on the endangered species list. These scales provide pangolins with a natural defense mechanism.  Assisting them in curling into a tight ball when threatened. Moreover, their diet primarily consists of ants and termites, which they consume using their long, sticky tongues. Despite their ecological importance in controlling insect populations, pangolins are seldom seen, making them one of the most mysterious animals in the wild.

Unique Armor:

Pangolins are the only mammals wholly covered in scales made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails and hair. These scales provide them with protection from predators.

Eating termites and ants

Defensive Curl:

When threatened, pangolins curl up into a tight ball, using their tough scales as armor. This makes it difficult for predators to get to their soft underbelly.

Insect Eaters:

Pangolins are insectivores, primarily feeding on ants and termites. They can consume up to 70 million insects per year.

Long Tongue:

Pangolins have incredibly long tongues, sometimes longer than their bodies, which they use to reach insects in nests and mounds.

A close up of a pangolins face

No Teeth:

Pangolins do not have teeth. Instead, they have a gizzard-like stomach that grinds the insects they eat with the help of ingested small stones and sand.

Solitary Animals:

Pangolins are generally solitary creatures, coming together only to mate. They are also nocturnal, being most active during the night.

Strong Claws:

Pangolins have strong, curved claws that they use to break open termite mounds and ant nests. These claws also help them to climb trees.

Distinctive Smell:

Pangolins can release a foul-smelling chemical from glands near the base of their tails, similar to skunks, to deter predators.

Beautiful scales

Highly Trafficked:

Unfortunately, pangolins are one of the most trafficked mammals in the world, mainly due to demand for their scales and meat. This has led to a significant decline in their populations.

Various Species:

There are eight species of pangolins: four in South Africa (such as the ground pangolin and the giant pangolin) and four in Asia (like the Chinese pangolin and the Indian pangolin).

Pangolins are fascinating creatures with unique adaptations, but they are also in desperate need of conservation efforts due to the threats they face from poaching and habitat loss.

Side view of the Pangolin

Why they are endangered?

Unfortunately, the very traits that make pangolins unique have also led to their endangerment. Primarily, the scales of the pangolin are highly sought after in traditional medicine, particularly in Asia, where they are believed to have healing properties. Consequently, this has led to extensive poaching and illegal trafficking of pangolins. Furthermore, pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in some cultures, exacerbating the demand for these creatures. This makes me incredibly sad, as humans will never be satisfied and will be the demise of this beautiful animal.

A curled up Pangolin

Who is fighting for the Pangolin?

In response, various conservation efforts have been initiated to protect pangolins from further decline. For instance, several African countries have enacted stricter laws and penalties against poaching and trafficking. Additionally, international agreements such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) have protected pangolins, prohibiting their commercial trade. Nevertheless, the enforcement of these regulations remains a significant challenge due to the high profitability of the illegal pangolin trade.

Frontal view of the Pangolin

Conservation Organizations:

Meanwhile, conservation organizations are working tirelessly to raise awareness about the plight of the pangolin. Educational campaigns have been launched to inform the public about the importance of pangolins and the threats they face. Moreover, rehabilitation centers have been established to care for rescued pangolins, aiming to release them back into the wild once they are healthy. Despite these efforts, the road to recovery for the pangolin is long and arduous, requiring global cooperation and persistent advocacy.

Education to all:

Significantly, the role of local communities in pangolin conservation cannot be overstated. Engaging local populations in conservation efforts not only helps protect pangolins but also fosters a sense of stewardship towards wildlife. In particular, community-based initiatives that provide alternative livelihoods can reduce the dependence on poaching and illegal wildlife trade. By involving local people in monitoring and protection activities, a sustainable model for pangolin conservation can be achieved.

Collection Action:

Ultimately, the survival of the pangolin hinges on collective action. Governments, conservationists, and local communities must collaborate to address the threats faced by these remarkable creatures. Support for anti-poaching units, funding for research, and international cooperation are essential components of a comprehensive strategy to save the pangolin. Without such measures, the world risks losing a unique species and the ecological balance it helps maintain.

Finally:

The endangered pangolin of Africa stands as a symbol of the broader struggles faced by wildlife in the modern world, through concerted efforts and unwavering dedication.

It is hoped that future generations will be able to witness the beauty and wonder of this remarkable animal. To ensure this, continued support and awareness are crucial, highlighting the urgent need to protect one of nature’s hidden treasures.

Endangered Pangolins

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