The pangolin is a mammal referred to as a scaly anteater, and is found in Africa and Asia but does not have any association with the similar Armadillo. There are eight types of Pangolin, with four in Asia and four in Africa. The four types of Pangolin found in Africa are the White Bellied or Tree Pangolin, the Giant Ground Pangolin, the Cape Pangolin, and the Long-tailed Pangolin.
Pangolins scales are made of keratin and cover its skin – the same protein as our hair and nails, rhino horn, and other animal claws. These beautiful creatures are being hunted to near extinction, not only for the meat, which is a great delicacy, but also its scales, which are used for medicinal purposes.
Mainly nocturnal and having a singular diet of ants and termites, the pangolin has a tongue that is in excess of 18 inches in length, longer than its body, and is tucked deep within its frame. The tongue is about a quarter of an inch thick and has a sticky surface, so when they dig deep into ant hills with their large specialised claws, the tongue extends down, trapping the ants or termites onto its tacky surface. It is believed that a single pangolin consumes more than 70 million insects a year.
Pangolins are bipedal, walking on their hind legs with the front two and tail off the ground for balance. Having poor eyesight and hearing it relies on its strong sense of smell to find its way around and to locate termites and ants nests. When threatened they roll up into an almost impenetrable ball and if caught, the Pangolin thrashes its tail and the sharp edge of the scales can slice the skin of a human or predator.
Species vary in size from about 1.6 kg to 33 kg. Their colours range from a light yellowish brown, to olive, to dark brown. Maturity begins at about two years of age, and males mark a territory to alert a female of their presence. The gestation period is believed to be between 69 and 150 days, and they only give birth to a single offspring. The baby’s scales are soft at first and harden in a short time to provide effective protection. The baby rides around on its mothers back, and the mother will nurse the young until it is weaned at three months old.
The pangolin is mostly a solitary creature, living in burrows in savannah and woodland areas. One surprising ability is that despite the heavy scales, they are capable of swimming and often can be found living near a water source. Pangolins need a natural environment to thrive; habitat loss due to increasing development in Africa and Asia is a big threat to the pangolin. Certain organisations are trying to get stricter laws put into place to try and protect this shy creature, and to deter hunters in the illegal wildlife trade.
Sadly, the pangolin will soon become extinct unless we take drastic measures to stop the current rate of poaching. The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network believes that more than 100,000 pangolins are illegally hunted each year, with two of the Asian species now being classified as critically endangered. These creatures are becoming more difficult to find in Asia, and the poachers are now looking more to Africa to satisfy the demands of China and Southeast Asia.
How you can help:
The Tikki Hywood Trust is a wildlife-based NGO that works to conserve and bring awareness to endangered animals. The Trust operates a wildlife rescue centre and runs captive breeding and release programs to assist dwindling wild animal populations. The Tikki Hywood Trust works to create and assist in enforcing legislation to protect pangolins, as well as rehabilitate pangolins rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Contact the Trust to see how you can help their work with pangolins and other endangered animals. www.tikkihywoodtrust.org
04-885156 or 0772-256490
Article and Photography by Ann Warner
Acknowledgements: Wikipedia; 25 facts about Pangolins; Tikki Hywood Trust, Zimbabwe; Wild is Life, Zimbabwe