If you’ve never heard of the pangolin, you’re probably not alone. This shy creature, as big as your cat or dog, is the world’s most trafficked mammal — with more than one million pangolins poached in the past decade. Its name spelt as PANG-GAH-LIN, has the scientific name of – MANIDAE with a diet comprising mainly of insect gets to a size ranging from 4.5 inches to 4.5 feet long. It can weigh 4 to 72 pounds. Though many think of them as reptiles, pangolins are actually mammals. They are the only mammals wholly-covered in scales and they use those scales to protect themselves from predators in the wild. If under threat, a pangolin will immediately curl into a tight ball and will use their sharp-scaled tails to defend themselves, it can roll into a tight ball that only leaves the tough scales exposed. All those scales act like armor and make the pangolin a less appealing snack for predators.

Although a pangolin doesn’t have any teeth, it does have very sharp claws.   It uses these claws to excavate burrows and dig for insects.  It also has a long sticky tongue which makes it easy for the pangolin to eat ants and termites. .” Because they have no teeth, pangolins pick up food with their sticky tongues, which can sometimes reach lengths greater than the animal’s body. Pangolins are solitary and active mostly at night. Most live on the ground, but some, like the black-bellied pangolin, also climb trees.

They range in size from a large housecat to more than four feet long. They are largely covered in scales made of keratin—the same material as human fingernails—which gives them the nickname “scaly anteater.” When threatened they can release a stinky fluid from a gland at the base of their tails as a defense mechanism.

Like anteaters, pangolins have long snouts and even longer tongues, which they use to lap up ants and termites they excavate from mounds with their powerful front claws. They’re able to close their noses and ears to keep ants out when they’re eating.

Though they look and act a lot like anteaters and armadillos, pangolins are more closely related to bears, cats, and dogs. The only time pangolins spend time together is when they mate and bear young. Some pangolin fathers will stay in the den until the single offspring is independent. Babies are born with soft scales that harden after two days, but they will ride on their mothers’ tails until they’re weaned at about three months. They reach sexual maturity at about two years old.

There are eight different pangolin species that can be found in Asia and Africa. However, pangolins are protected animals and some are even considered endangered species. The shy, harmless pangolin has becoming increasingly well known for one reason: It’s believed to be the world’s most trafficked non-human mammal. Tens of thousands of pangolins are poached every year, killed for their scales for use in traditional Chinese medicine and for their meat, a delicacy among some ultra-wealthy in China and Vietnam. There are eight species of pangolins. Four are found is Asia—Chinese, Sunda, Indian, and Philippine pangolins—and they’re listed by the IUCN as critically endangered. The four African species—the ground pangolin, giant pangolin, white-bellied, and black-bellied—are listed as vulnerable. All species face declining populations because of illegal trade.

Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same material that makes up fingernails, hair, and horn. Pangolin scales, like rhino horn, have no proven medicinal value, yet they are used in traditional Chinese medicine. For many years, the Asian species were the primary target of poachers and traffickers. But now that their numbers have been depleted, smugglers are increasingly turning to African pangolins. In two record-breaking seizures in the space of a week in April 2019, Singapore seized a 14.2-ton shipment and and a 14-ton shipment of pangolin scales—from an estimated 72,000 pangolins—coming from Africa.

All eight pangolin species are at risk of extinction, and conservation efforts needed to save them. Despite their tough appearance these small, warrior-built mammals are losing the battle against poachers and habitat loss. They are the most trafficked animal in the world. Hunted for their scales which can be sold on the black market for up to $3,000/kg. Large-scale trafficking is driven by a belief that pangolin scales have magical and curative properties and demand for their meat. These interesting beliefs about Pangolin are:

  • When mixed with bark from certain trees, the scales are thought to neutralize witchcraft and evil spirits.
  • If buried near a man’s door they are said to give an interesting woman power over him. The smoke from their scales is thought to improve cattle health, keep lions away, and cure ailments like nose-bleeds.
  • Although their scales are made of keratin—the same substance that makes up human hair and nails—they are in high demand in certain Asian countries. Where the scales are believed to cure illnesses ranging from cancer to asthma and heart disease.
  •  Their meat is considered a delicacy and a status symbol as it is served to visitors or business meetings for bragging rights.
  • In some areas, tribes believe sighting of this scaly mammal indicates there will be a drought and the only way to prevent it is by killing the animal.
  • They are used in traditional Chinese medicine to help with ailments ranging from lactation difficulties, epilepsy, chicken pox to arthritis. The scales are typically dried and ground up into powder, which may be turned into a pill.
  • In Africa, it’s thrown into the fire alive and when eaten its believed to bring good luck to the person.

In Kenya, the Pangolins have not been spared either, due to the demand for its body parts, which are used by different communities for different reasons, including as ornaments, in medicine and superstition, among others. They fetch a fortune in the black market since their scales are used for spiritual protection and financial rituals, A pangolin goes for approximately KSh4 million even though they top the LIST OF IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species and are Listed as “Critically Endangered.” Director of In August  24, this year, Director of Criminal Investigations officers in Kinango, Kwale county arrested three suspects accused of being in possession of a male pangolin, after which the pangolin was handed over to the Kenya Wildlife Service personnel at the Nairobi Animal Orphanage.

As a matter of fact, all eight pangolin species face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild due to illegal overexploitation for local and international use. The addition of pangolins to the Red List serves to catalyse action and mitigate against the threats they face in a bid to secure their long-term future. Still, there is a lot to do, and more awareness to communities for their invaluable cooperation must be furthered for sure sustainability of the conservation agenda. No value can be placed on any one species. Lamentably, we must realise all too late a species’ importance in the cycle of life. We should remember, prevention is better than cure.

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