The pangolin is probably one of the most misunderstood and unfortunate animals on the planet. It’s been blamed for spreading the coronavirus (through no fault of its own, mind you) and has been the prized target of countless smuggling syndicates across the world.
For a scaly creature the size of a cat or average dog, it sure has caused a stir globally, and yet so little is known about it.
Firstly, despite its scaly appearance, the pangolin is a mammal. All eight species of pangolin, which are found only in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are at risk of extinction, thanks to ruthless traffickers.
Why are pangolins so sought after?
Pangolins are hunted for a number of reasons, namely medicine and luxury goods, with the greatest demand coming from China and Vietnam. Their scales are dried and powdered and sold as medicine in the East. The medicine is believed to treat stomach aches, menstruation pain, and arthritis, and said to spur lactation, but there is no scientific evidence to support these beliefs and treatments, making the killing of pangolins all the more senseless. In fact, the pangolin’s scales are made up of keratin, which makes them as valuable as fingernails.
Eating pangolins is a sign of social status
Sadly, certain men in China believe that eating a pangolin fetus in the soup will enhance their prowess in bed. Again, there is no scientific basis for this belief. Furthermore, in parts of the East pangolins are eaten among rich people as a sign of social status. Their meat is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam.
As if to illustrate the severity of the plight pangolins face and the insatiable appetite for these mammals, in 2017 more than 13 tons of scales were seized in China, taken from an estimated 20 000 pangolins.
Why crackdown on pangolin smuggling?
But why is it so important to stop pangolin smuggling? Syndicates that smuggle pangolins are usually the same ones who deal in the illegal trade of rhino and elephant horns, among other precious and endangered species. It’s in the interests of all these animal species that law enforcement agencies find ways to stop the illicit trade in pangolins.
Pangolins also play a critical environmental role. They eat termites and other insects which would otherwise destroy crops and buildings in Africa and Asia, leading to much bigger disasters.
Ironically, the coronavirus may just save the pangolin from extinction, as experts try to pinpoint whether in fact, the pangolin was responsible for spreading the virus. Even if it didn’t, this theory has prompted the Chinese government to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade. It could prove a blessing in disguise for the pangolin.