Pangolins: The Most Trafficked Mammal You've Never Heard Of | National Geographic What are pangolins? If you've never heard of the pangolin, you're not alone. This shy creature, as big as your cat or dog, is the world's most trafficked mammal ...
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The pangolin is a timid little creature going about its nocturnal ways,
slurping up ants and termites with a tongue longer than its body. It
has no teeth. Its defense when threatened is to roll up into a ball
shielded by its scales -- an armor plating that is the cause of its
The meat is also considered a delicacy. They have long been hunted in Central Africa for bushmeat but the numbers lost are not easy to calculate. In 2018, an estimate of 400,000 to 2.7 million killed for food was reported by researchers using three different methods -- hence the wide range. The lead author of the study, Daniel Ingram of University College London, expressed greater confidence in the lower number.
The third Saturday in February, which fell on the 16th this year, is World Pangolin Day. Unfortunately, there was little cause for celebration as the following customs seizures from just the previous two months manifest.
Adding to all of this is the largest haul globally in five years as reported by Singapore authorities on April 5th. They discovered 12.9 tonnes of pangolin scales from an estimated 17,000 animals along with 390 lb of ivory in a shipping container destined for Vietnam. Sadly, these efforts by authorities also attest to the ineffectiveness of the ban on all international trade in pangolins two years ago (2017) by the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Making matters worse, the pangolins
are mammals and (unlike rabbits!) happen to be slow breeding. The gestation period
is 5 months and mothers seldom give birth to more than one pangopup a
year. Pink and soft, the newborn pups are just 6 inches long, weighing about 12 ounces. Their scales begin to harden the next
day. The baby is suckled for three months but insects supplement its diet after about a month. It then takes two years to
reach sexual maturity, all of which accounts for the slow
Poaching is almost impossible to stop unless the profit incentive stemming from the dubious medicinal benefits of the scales is removed -- the April 5th seizure was worth $38 million . The scales are the principal source of demand and as they are made merely of keratin, the same as in human fingernails and hair, it then becomes a matter of education to curb demand.
pangolins have a chance? Let's hope so, or the little fellows will go
the way of the African Northern White rhinoceros before we even get to
know them. Sudan the last white rhino male died on March 19, 2018. As
is often the case, it will take a sustained effort by environmental
groups to persuade the Chinese, Vietnamese and other East Asian governments to act.
Author's Note: This article first appeared on Counterpunch.org