By Annie Cebulski
With their slender body and scales, some think pangolins are dragons. It is hard to believe that such a strange looking animal exists. But unlike dragons of myth, pangolins are real animal threatened by very real dangers.
Pangolins, the only mammal to be covered in scales, are small creatures that love to dig. There are eight species of pangolin, four in Africa and four in Asia. Some species are ground-dwelling while others prefer to climb trees. The pangolin is probably best known to the public as the inspiration for the Pokémon Sandshrew and Sandslash, with its strong front legs for digging and keratin scale armour. But the real pangolin would never be caught in a Pokémon battle, as it is quite shy. In the face of danger, a pangolin will actually roll up into a ball to avoid conflict, praying that its strong scales will protect it from predators like lions so it doesn’t have to resort to using its tail. This behavior led to its name deriving from the Malay word “pengguling,” which translates to “something that rolls up.”
Despite being shy and elusive, the pangolin is one of the most trafficked animals in the illegal animal trade, prized for its scales made of keratin like the Rhino is for its horn.Unfortunately, the pangolin’s defense mechanism of rolling into a ball makes it easy for poachers to scoop up. All eight species have special trade protections from the law, and two Asian species are critically endangered while the other two Asian species are endangered. African pangolins are listed as vulnerable. In 2011 alone, anywhere between 41,000-60,000 pangolins were taken from the wild to supply this illegal bush trade. Southeast Asian countries, prominently China, often use pangolin meat as food and pangolin scales as fashion accessories and medicine to treat hysterical crying and nervousness, despite a lack of evidence to its effectiveness.
Because of their secretive nature, humans do not know much about the ones who are lucky enough to live out full lives in the wild. What we do know, however, paints a picture of a quirky animal who likes to do things on its own time. A solitary creature, pangolins spend much of their day wandering alone around the dirt or treescape to find bugs to suck up with their anteater-like tongues. Their love lives are quite lonely as well, as male pangolins find a mate by marking their territory with urine and hoping that a female will walk by someday. If not, they are not too concerned.
But with pangolin numbers declining, every successful pair counts.
Find out how to help here: http://savepangolins.org/help/