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There are eight different species of pangolin found across Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Often mistaken for reptiles, pangolins are covered in tough, overlapping scales that resemble plated armor. These mammals are burrowers that eat up to 12,000 ants and termites each day using their long, muscular, sticky tongue.
Pangolins are extremely adaptable – most can run surprisingly fast, are capable swimmers and some species are adept climbers as well. Pangolins are nocturnal and very secretive, making it difficult for scientists to observe and study them in the wild.
Pangolins are hunted for food, for use in medicines and folk remedies and to fuel a rampant, illegal international trade in their scales, skins and meat. With the largest markets in China, there is a high and growing demand for nearly all body parts of the pangolin. In the period between 2011 and 2013, somewhere between 117,000 and 235,000 pangolins are estimated to have been killed, and this number continues to rise. Imagine this level of slaughter occurring every year unabated for the next ten years? What will be left?
Pangolins are unique and truly remarkable creates that need our help to survive. We need to pass laws that will make a real difference in our efforts to save these creatures.
A coat of armor made of pangolin scales, an unusual object, was presented to George III in 1820
Pangolins are hunted and eaten in many parts of Africa and are one of the more popular types of bush meat, while local healers use the pangolin as a source of traditional medicine. They are also in great demand in Southern China and Vietnam because their meat is considered a delicacy and some believe that pangolin scales have medicinal qualities. Over the past decade, it is believed that over one million pangolins have been illegally trafficked, making it the most trafficked animal in the world. This, coupled with deforestation, has led to a large decrease in the numbers of pangolins. Some species, such as Manis pentadactyla have become commercially extinct in certain ranges as a result of over hunting. In November 2010, pangolins were added to the Zoological Society of London's list of genetically distinct and endangered mammals. All eight species of pangolin are classified by the IUCN as threatened to extinction, while two are classified as critically endangered.
Though pangolins are protected by an international ban on their trade, populations have suffered from illegal trafficking due to unfounded beliefs in East Asia that their ground-up scales can stimulate lactation or cure cancer or asthma. In the past decade there have been numerous seizures of illegally trafficked pangolin and pangolin meat in Asia. In one such incident in April 2013, 10,000 kilograms (11 short tons) of pangolin meat was seized from a Chinese vessel that ran aground in the Philippines.In another case in August 2016, an Indonesian man was arrested after police raided his home and found over 650 pangolins in freezers on his property.
As a result of increasing threats to pangolins, mainly in the form of illegal, international trade in pangolin skin, scales, and meat, these species have received increasing conservation attention in recent years. For example, in 2014, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) re-categorised all eight species of pangolin on its Red List of Threatened Species, and each species is now properly listed as being threatened with extinction. Also, the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group launched a global action plan to conserve pangolins, dubbed 'Scaling up Pangolin Conservation' in July 2014. This action plan aims to improve all aspects of pangolin conservation with an added emphasis on combating poaching and trafficking of the animal while educating communities in its importance.
Many attempts have been made to reproduce pangolins in captivity, but due to their reliance on wide ranging habitats and very particular diets, these attempts are often unsuccessful. Pangolins are susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia and the development of ulcers in captivity, complications which can lead to an early death. In addition, pangolins rescued from illegal trade often have a higher chance of being infected with parasites such as intestinal worms, further lessening their chance for rehabilitation and reintroduction to the wild. Recently, researchers have been able to improve artificial pangolin habitats to allow for reproduction of pangolins, providing some hope for future reintroduction of these species into their natural habitats.
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