When you think of animal poaching, rhinos, elephants and tigers might first come to mind, and rightfully so. These beautiful and important animals get attention that generates keen awareness and a high level of protection.
What you might be surprised to know is that among those at the top of the list is a peculiar, house-cat-sized mammal that eats ants and termites.
The prehistoric pangolin, considered one of the world’s oldest and weirdest creatures, with eight species found across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – four in each region – is disappearing at the alarming rate of 100,000 a year. The usual effects of poaching and habitat loss have combined to make these mysterious creatures one of the most endangered groups of mammals in the world.
In a story that plays out much the same as other animals leaning toward extinction, pangolins are hunted illegally for food, medicinal purposes and fashion accessories – at a rate fast enough that extinction is pegged at 25 years.
Its unique trait is also its biggest threat. Covered with overlapping scales made of keratin – the same protein found in human nails – the scales serve as an ingredient in traditional medicine in East Asia, where people believe the scales can treat a variety of ailments. Of course, there is no scientific evidence to back this up.
Furthermore, when threatened, they curl into a tight ball, making it near impenetrable to predators, except humans, who simply pick them up.
The pangolin is an ideal example of how little we know about our surrounding world. Awareness is key when it comes to conservation and the more we learn and teach others about the dangers of poaching, the more effective our collective efforts will be.
I encourage you to share with others the plight of the pangolin, along with other endangered species – the list is far too long – important to our sustainable future. There is hope we can do something to stop the unnecessary destruction of yet another species.