Other Endangered Species

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Pangolins: What are they, why are they so endangered and what can we do to help?

Also known as scaly anteaters because of their appearance, long tongues and favourite snacks, pangolins are mammals that inhabit tropical forests, dry woodlands and the savannah. Pangolins are so unique they have a mammal order to themselves, Pholidota. Despite frequent comparisons to anteaters and armadillos, they have nothing taxonomically in common.

About the size of a small cat, they are completely covered with scales made of keratin – also found in human nails – which start off as soft and harden as the creatures get older. Conservationists are battling to save the pangolin, the most illegally traded animal in the world.

This poor beautiful animal is sadly been “cooked and eaten to extinction”. They are eaten as bush meat and the scales are used in traditional medicine known as ‘Muti’ or Juju’. Roasted pangolin scales are believed to cure cancer, relieve palsy and even stimulate breast milk, which is of course utter nonsense. The African pangolin species is not only threatened by intensive hunting but their habitat is also in trouble due to the use of pesticides and electric fences.

Prince William recently quipped that the bizarre creatures, which are the world’s only scaly mammals, run “the risk of becoming extinct before most people have even heard of them”.

There are eight different types of pangolin in Asia and Africa:

• Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) – Critically Endangered

• Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) – Critically Endangered

• Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) – Endangered

• Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis) – Endangered

• Cape or Temminck’s Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) – Vulnerable

• White-bellied or Tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) – Vulnerable

• Giant Ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) – Vulnerable

• Black-bellied or Long-tailed pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla) – Vulnerable.

10 things you may not know about Pangolins

  1. Pangolins are solitary, nocturnal and very secretive so many mysteries remain about them.

  2. The name pangolin comes from the Malayan dialect word for 'pengguling' meaning 'something that rolls up’

  3. When they feel threatened, pangolins curl up into a defensive ball.

  4. Pangolins don’t have any teeth, but their claws are hard enough to dig through concrete.

  5. They have a long, pencil-thin tongue that can probe into a nest for 16 inches

  6. Their scales are made from keratin (the same material as rhino horns and human nails)

  7. When curled into their ball, the pangolin is really a bit too big for a predator such as a lion or hyena to get its mouth around and the scales are too tough to penetrate

  8. Pangolins are also nocturnal and are only active for between four and eight hours each night, hunting for ant nests and termite mounds

  9. Pangolins are either ground-dwelling (and spend most of their time in burrows) or arboreal (and hang out in nests in trees

  10. If feeling angry or threatened, pangolins will hiss, puff and lash their sharp tails, but if the fight is too big, they will just curl up until the attacker goes away.