#LoveSpecies nominee: ground pangolin
Nominated by: David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Why do you love it?
Pangolins are the MOST trafficked mammals on the planet but hardly anyone knows about them. Although they look reptilian they are mammals and extraordinary ones at that. They eat mainly ants and termites which they detect by scent and can eat up to a staggering 23,000 insects a day!
They use their strong front claws to dig into nests and mounds and use their extremely long, sticky tongues (they can be as long as the pangolin itself) to get the insects. The tongue is attached way back inside the body between the pelvis and the last set of ribs. When not in use the tongue rests in a special pouch inside the pangolin’s throat. A special muscle closes their nostrils and ears to stop the insects attacking them. Stranger still, pangolins don’t have teeth but keratin spikes in their stomachs work with small stones or sand they have swallowed to grind the food up. Being such prolific eaters means that pangolins are an important form of pest control, often eating insects that negatively impact on crop production.
Covered in tough scales they look a bit like pine cones and roll into a protective ball when threatened. They can also use the erect scales on their tails to lash out at predators – they also hiss, puff and expel a foul scent to defend themselves.
They have one baby a year which is called a ‘pangopup’.
What are the threats to the ground pangolin?
Their main predators are leopards, hyenas, lions and humans. Over a million pangolins are believed to have been illegally captured and sold in the last decade alone. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in some Asian countries; some also believe that their scales can be used to cure a range of illnesses. They are also vulnerable to loss of habitat due to an increase in agriculture. In Africa they are eaten as bushmeat0 and used for traditional African medicine.
There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that pangolin scales (made of keratin) have any medicinal benefit. Due to declining numbers in Asia, where they have suffered a 90% decrease over the last 20 years, attention has now turned to African pangolins to supply illegal markets putting our ground pangolin in grave danger.
What are you doing to save it? In 2016 the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) established a new pangolin protection programme in Zambia where there has been a dramatic increase in the number of pangolins confiscated from illegal traders.
The programme supports local awareness campaigns and funds wildlife crime prevention as well as supporting a specialist rehabilitation unit to help return seized animals back to the wild.
Find out more about DSWF’s pangolin programme.