Pangolins (also called scaly anteaters) are strange creatures that are quietly being eaten to extinction. They are coved in scales are actually modified hairs. They also have large claws on their front legs, which they use for digging up ants’ nests. They then use their ant-eater-like tongue to lick them up. They are insectivores, and their diet is mainly comprised of ants and termites. Their name comes from the Malay word “penugguling,” which means “something that rolls up.” There are eight different species of pangolin, but they are all on the endangered species list. They are facing extinction because of habitat loss, their use in traditional Chinese medicine, and general consumption. Their scales are thought to have medicinal properties, and their meat is considered a delicacy.
An estimated one million of them have been traded and killed within the past ten years, this makes them the most trafficked animals in the world.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species bans pangolin trade but poaching in some areas is still strong. This past July Vietnamese customs officials seized 1.4 tons of pangolin scales from a cargo ship. This amounts to about 10,000 dead animals. Pangolin scales are worth more than $200 a kilogram.
One chef in southern China describes cooking pangolin: “We keep them alive in cages until the customer makes an order. Then we hammer them unconscious, cut their throats and drain the blood. It is a slow death. We then boil them to remove the scales. We cut the meat into small pieces and use it to make a number of dishes, including braised meat and soup. Usually the customers take the blood home with them afterwards.” This morbid description is how many pangolins spend their final days. Others are not so lucky, many are frozen alive and then distributed around Asia.
However, even though they are largely unknown to the world, and are understudied, pangolins are incredibly resilient animals, if given the opportunity they breed fairly quickly and could begin to recover in the wild.
So consider the pine-cone creature, and give it the attention it so badly needs, and maybe it might have a chance.