It’s always really refreshing when I learn about a new organism. The ones that are super new, those that I had no idea about, like pangolins. No, not penguins, Pangolins.
But, with more pangolin research came the inevitable pang in my heart, when I read how exploited these guys are. It got me thinking about why any animal is sold on the black market. Not for hunger or for survival of the captor, but for show, so that those who purchase these animals can shake their fancy cock feathers. Humans can be so self righteous and greedy. But that’s no new concept, so we shall move on.
Pangolins are a manicurists’ dream! Almost their entire body is covered with scales made of keratin (the same stuff our fingernails are made out of). The scales grow throughout their lives, but they keep them trimmed by using rocks and the surrounding landscape to file them down. They don’t have teeth, but instead have a loooooong spaghetti-like tongue that exceeds the length of their bodies, which they use to extract ants and other insects from their hills and homes. The insects are swallowed whole and churned and crushed in the stomach with the aid of rocks, sand, and other consumed debris. Pangolins eat about 70 million insects a year. (Talk about biological pest control.) They don’t have to worry about an invading army of ants, if their feast goes awry, because pangolins have special muscles that enable them to seal their nostrils, ears, and eyes shut from invaders. And, when some other animal is ready to feast on a pangolin, his natural defense is to curl up into a keratin protected ball. However, despite these defense mechanisms, these solo-living, nocturnal animals are on the decline. All 8 species of pangolins are somewhere on the verge of extinction. They are losing their habitat and are the most illegally traded mammal in the world.
I think the best form of prevention is education. So, now that you know a little bit about this scaly organism and his situation, maybe you’ll turn down the platter of pangolin at the next party.