Pangolins are one of the most threatened animals in the world, and they are so rare that many safari guides will retire without ever having seen one.
Sadly, the illegal trade of pangolins in South Asia has earned the scaly mammals the unenviable title of ‘most trafficked animal on earth’. This, along with the fact that pangolins are incredibly elusive by nature, means that a sighting of one is cause for great excitement.
Guests at Robin Pope Safaris’ Nkwali recently experienced this when they were able to witness the release of a pangolin into the wild. The little creature had been spotted being sold in the market and, luckily for the pangolin, it was reported to the Zambia National Parks officers.
Immediately springing into action, the officers were able to swiftly rescue the pangolin and, shortly afterwards, release it back into the South Luangwa National Park. Whilst admittedly the little creature didn’t make a major bid for freedom, it was a very special sighting all the same.
The peculiar pangolin
Pangolins are not the best-looking animal in the wild. With its armoured shell and peculiar walk, the humble pangolin looks more like an anteater prepped for medieval battle than an animal under threat of extinction.
They are the only mammals in the world covered in scales, and when they feel threatened, they curl up into a tight, almost impenetrable ball to protect their vulnerable undersides. ‘Pangolin’ comes from the Malay word ‘penggulung’, which means ‘one that rolls up’.
Pangolins also have super long and sticky tongues that can slurp up ants and termites rapidly. When the pangolins tongue is fully extended, it can be up to 16 inches (over 40 centimetres) and longer than its entire body length!
Pangolins are at huge risk of total extinction
The demand for pangolins has skyrocketed in recent years, earning these animals the unfortunate distinction of being the most trafficked wild mammal in the world. Pangolin scales are ground up and used in Vietnam and China as traditional medicine (just like rhino horns). Their meat is also considered an exotic (and expensive) delicacy in some countries.
The true scale of the problem facing the world’s most illegally traded mammal has been revealed in a new study. And the results are shocking. The poaching of pangolins, has increased by 150 percent in Central Africa from 1970s to 2014, and are more sought after than elephant ivory.
Saving the precious pangolins
Pangolins are really hard to protect due to their shy and isolated nature, but it is not impossible. Various organisations fight for these precious creatures on a daily basis. One of the major obstacles they face is combating the underground pangolin trade and the lack of awareness of the problem.
We as humans need to stand up for the pangolins and spread the news. Together we can all make a difference and help to save the precious pangolins.