SunSpecial: World Pangolin Day   2 comments

The Pangolin (genera Manis; Phataginus; and Smutsia) wouldn’t harm a fly. Of course each individual can eat thousands and thousands of ants every day, but flies, along with virtually every animal (and plant, for that matter), are safe around these unique (so exclusive they have no known close relatives) found in the Far East, particularly Indonesia and China; and Africa. If these animals live that far away, you might be asking, they certainly aren’t native to North America and I came here to read about animals I can see in my own neighborhood, not on the other side of the world! So why are we talking about them here? Good question! While every species throughout the world has it’s purpose, we usually try to keep to those plants and animals that could be living in your neighborhood, nearby park, or at least are native to North America (nothing personal to the other species). But this weekend, February 20th, is World Pangolin Day and while it should be an opportunity to celebrate this gentle and incredibly important animal that few people in the Western world even know exists, it’s more a time to recognize the life and death challenge facing these species. A challenge that comes not from climate change; nor competition for food or territory; nor loss of natural environment – while all these are certainly challenges in themselves. What is pushing the unassertive Pangolin to the edge of extinction are many of the products we can find in our local mall.

Until recently, many of the world’s cultures would, only rarely and on special occasions, eat foods that signify a special achievement or are significant to that cultures history or beliefs. In America, for example, most of us eat cranberry sauce only on Thanksgiving; gingerbread at Christmas; and black-eye peas on New Years. So in other cultures and parts of the world plants and animals – many of which would be loathsome for us to even think about eating – are considered ‘delicacies’ that some people may eat only a few times in their lives, and others can never afford. But today, in China, Indonesia, and other countries of the Far East, largely due to skyrocketing economic growth due to manufacturing and exports; social expectations of impressing your companions and business associates; and rise of an upper class with more money than they know what to do with, extravagant foods that for thousands of years seen as rare and unusual are now considered ‘fashionable’.

Pangolin are an animal that is now routinely eaten by senior business and government officials in many countries of the Far East. Seen as a status symbol, these harmless animals are caught, transported sometimes thousands of miles without food or water, and served to anyone with the money and the willingness (or social connections) to flaunt their disregard of the law; for the buying and selling of Pangolin species is illegal under an International Trade act which most countries agreed to, however few officials enforce and in fact may take advantage of for their own benefit. No one knows how many Pangolins are sold each year, but it’s probably in the tens of thousands; so many that within just the past two decades the Chinese (Manis pentadactyla) and Malaysian Pangolin (Manis javanica) are nearing extinction. While demand for the animals increase, poachers are now supplying animals taken from Vietnam, Thailand, and now shipments consisting of thousands of animals are being transported from Africa, the last area where Pangolins have until now not been exploited.

As food, the animals are valued at about $150 a pound; about $1000 an animal. But body parts – particularly body scales (pangolin possess a trait different than any other mammal: Hard, armour-like body covering that protects them from most predators) – can result in far greater prices. Believed to hold mystical properties, the scales are ground into powder; labeled as ‘unicorn tablets’, ‘carp armor’ or ‘dragon scales’; and sold for over $300 a pound as treatment for detoxification; healing infection; increasing ‘positive body fluids’ (whatever that is); and curing acne. Even though the scales are made of keratin, the same material as finger and toenails; hair; and animal horns, and has no medical properties whatsoever. (Aside from basic nutritional elements, no animal has any special, ‘magic’ substance that will help a person regrow lost hair, or gain super-powers, or ward off disease, nor provide any other advantage that humans wish were true, but just isn’t).

Pangolin seem to enjoy hanging upside down by their tails. No one knows why.

Pangolin seem to enjoy hanging upside down by their tails. No one knows why.

Pangolin have no teeth (which, if they did, would probably be valued for some magical properties that don’t exist); are ancient, as a group, have no direct relatives yet are totally unique among all species; are nocturnal, generally solitary, and somewhat of a mystery to science with little known of their behavior, birth and parenting, or even where they sleep. However each adult does eat about 70 million termites and ants a year, using their long, sticky tongue that can be half a long as its body; which makes them, ironically, priceless in their jungle and rainforest home where insects can destroy entire trees in just a few days. Pangolin are almost impossible to keep in a refuge or zoo as they refuse to eat anything other than their insect diet, and usually die after a few months of captivity. Today the worlds most-traded illegal animal, perhaps the most significant challenge facing the species is that an entire group an animals may go extinct before many people even know they exist.

The world, it’s often observed, seems smaller due to advances in transportation, communication, and technology. Many products once made in nearby cities now travel across the world for our convenience. It would be nearly impossible to live without most of the products and services we take for granted, even though the total cost for this accessibility might be higher, and largely unknown, to our lifestyles. Certainly not every person who manufactures, packages, or ships the newest mobile phone or fashionable shoes or piece of decorator furniture is, later that week, eating an endangered species (most researchers agree it’s not the everyday workers who are exploiting the environment, but executives, wealthy importers/exporters and government officials); but, in our everyday choices and purchases, we as the consumer are a significant factor into what products are made and sold. Is it any less our responsibility to question who’s paying the ultimate cost?

http://www.savevietnamswildlife.org/

http://www.pangolinsg.org/

Posted February 20, 2016 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SunSpecial

Tagged with , ,

2 responses to “SunSpecial: World Pangolin Day

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  1. Thanks for writing about these fascinating creatures. The Traditional Asian Medicine trade is taking a heavy toll on many species that would be impossible to replace. It’s good that you’re helping to spread the word about pangolins.

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