Being eaten to extinction: 20 pangolin facts for WPD 2020

It’s World Pangolin Day! 

At the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, we play our part to try to curb the extinction of these unique creatures by supporting the Malawi government with the rehabilitation and release of pangolins confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade.  Notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, our animal care team work hard to release these scaly sweethearts as quickly as possible. Sometimes that means a quick overnight stay in case of Pangolina showcased in the video. For our younger guests we work with park staff to assist in longer-term care to enable the pangolins to learn to find ants and grow the confidence to navigate around. It can sometimes take the little ones a bit of time to become ant masters so we work to provide a safe place for them to become independent.

 

Pangolins the world over are being hunted on a scale never seen before. Despite being protected by national and international legislation such as the CITES act, over 300 of these animals are taken from the wild every day.

Why is this happening? Prized for their meat – considered a delicacy in both China and Vietnam – and also their scales, which are made from keratin like our fingernails, pangolins are poached to be used as ingredients in traditional medicine. Despite no scientific evidence to support it, pangolins are believed to be able to treat asthma, rheumatism and arthritis. And when roasted believed to cure cancer, relieve palsy and even stimulate breast milk production. Poachers capitalise on the growing demand by snaring the animals, sometimes even feeding them gravel before killing them in a bid to increase their weight and value. Beyond poaching, their habitat is also under threat from the use of pesticides and electric fences as more and more societies encroach on wild lands.

According to a new report from animal welfare charity the Wildlife Justice Commission, in 2019, the average weight of a pangolin scale shipment was 6.2 tons, compared with 2.2 tons just three years earlier. An estimated 206.4 tons of pangolin scales were confiscated during 52 seizures across the globe between 2016 and 2019. And even more shocking, the study suggests this figure is only a fraction of the total amount of pangolin scales being trafficked around the world; it’s very likely that a significant proportion of smuggling goes undetected. And worse still, analysis of the seizure data revealed nearly two-thirds seized over the study period was detected in the last two years. That means, the trade of pangolins is up-scaling, excuse the pun.

Pangolin on the hunt
A very tasty mound.
Pangolin 'Muru' watching the world go by while being carried between ant hills.
Muru watches the world go by while carried between ant hills.

 

What can you do to help? 

Play your part this World Pangolin Day by…

>   Encouraging your government to get serious on the full enforcement of laws and penalties for smuggling pangolins (and other wildlife too!)

>   Anonymously notifying the authorities if you see pangolins for sale at markets or on restaurant menus, or if you know of anyone capturing or possessing pangolins. You can help to #stopwildlifecrime in Malawi by reporting on: 0994 942240 or info@wildlife.gov.mw

>   And lastly, educate others about the amazing creature that is the pangolin. Share some of these amazing facts with your community.

 

20 PANGOLIN FACTS ON WORLD PANGOLIN DAY 2020

 
  • Pangolins are natively found throughout Asia and Africa.
  • There are eight species and all are being poached.
  • Pangolins in Malawi – the Temminck Ground Pangolin – are, on average, the size of a small cat with a long tail. They grow to around 50cm long and weigh 12 kg. There is lots of variation across the species. Fully grown thelargest is the Giant Pangolin; they can be up to 30 kg and 4 foot long.
  • Though they have nothing taxonomically in common, they’re often called scaly anteaters.
  • Tropical forests, dry woodlands and the savannah make up their habitat.
  • Pangolins are both ground and tree based. They dwell in burrows and hang out in nests too.
  • Pangolins reach sexual maturity around two years of age.
  • Couples pair briefly for 1-2 days and the female will give birth to a single young after a gestation period of around 135 days species pending.
  • Scales cover most of their body but there are none on the face or belly, or on the inner surface of the legs
  • Pangolins are nocturnal – they’re only active for four and eight hours per night
  • They are very picky eaters and are completely insectivorous. They need an abundance of ants and termites to sustain them.
  • They can eat 90 times per night.
  • They have a long, pencil-thin tongue that is covered with a sticky saliva. They use this to get into termite tunnels.
  • Pangolins don’t have any teeth.
  • Their claws are hard enough to dig through concrete.
  • If feeling angry or threatened, pangolins will hiss, puff and lash their tails.
  • When they feel threatened by larger species, pangolins curl up into a defensive ball. This makes pangolins too big to fit inside a lion or hyena’s mouth and too tough to grip onto or be fatally bitten.
  • The same defences that pangolins have evolved to defend themselves in nature work against them with humans.
  • There are over 20 global trade routes being used every year to smuggle pangolins, or their body parts, into Asian markets.
  • Pangolins are the most illegal trafficked mammal in the world.
 
 

Article references:

https://www.illicit-trade.com/2020/02/wildlife-justice-commission-calls-for-action-after-identifying-large-rise-in-pangolin-scale-smuggling/

https://wildlifejustice.org/new-report-analyses-unprecedented-levels-of-pangolin-trafficking-urging-stakeholders-to-tackle-it-as-transnational-crime?cn-reloaded=1

https://www.pangolins.org/