As of 2017, of the 67,222 animal species included in the IUCN Red List, 2,851 are Critically Endangered, and 4,314 are Endangered, with the number being on a constant rise. A whopping 748 different animal species have been declared extinct, i.e., 748 species of animals have been completely wiped out from the planet. One species facing this threat of extinction unknown to the common public is right here in India – the Indian Pangolin.
Pangolins are also known as scaly anteaters and are the only scaly mammals. There are eight different species of pangolins. All eight pangolin species are now considered threatened with extinction, according to the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Two of the four Asian species, the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) and Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) have been listed as Critically Endangered. The Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis) and Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) are Endangered. The other four species of pangolins live in Africa and are Vulnerable. These species are small in size ranging from between 30 cm to 100 cm.
Pangolins have scales made of keratin on their dorsal side, the scales are the same material our hair and nails are made up of. When they feel threatened they protect their soft underbelly by curling up into a ball. They also release a foul-smelling chemical from glands near their anus, a lot like a skunk to deter predators. They are fascinating creatures who resemble ant eaters and armadillos but are more closely related to carnivores. They live in tree hollows and burrows, this, however, depends on the species. Pangolins are nocturnal, and their diet consists mostly of ants and termites, they capture using their long tongues, they swallow small stones to help grind and digest their food better since they have no teeth. They tend to be solitary animals, meeting specifically to mate and produce a litter of one or two offspring who are then raised for two years. Pangolin pups ride their mothers tail to go around and are called pangopups.
Globally over the last decade, more than a million pangolins were taken from the wild for trade. In India, at least 650 pangolins are hunted and sold every year for illegal trade. This happens to be the biggest reason that is driving them to the brink of extinction.
Pangolins have been deemed the “most illegally traded mammal in the world” because of their massive demand from China and Vietnam. Pangolin meat which also includes their foetuses is consumed as a delicacy in various parts of the world. Pangolin scales are in use in different traditional Chinese medicines. But the scales are simply formed of keratin which is the same as human fingernails and there are no scientific basis for the supposed benefits recorded from the consumption of pangolin scales though it is the leading cause behind its poaching.
This species is protected under the Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 the same as tiger, elephants and leopards. All pangolin species are listed under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix I, this prohibits all international trade in pangolins. However, poaching and illegal trade continue.
On World Endangered Species Day, let’s strive to make pangolins not endangered anymore.
– Authored by Mr N.G Jayasimha, Managing Director, Humane Society International India.