Monday, October 1, 2012

Endangered Species Monday - Pangolin

I will go out a limb here and guess that most of you reading this have never heard of a pangolin, let alone seen a pangolin. They are not the most common animal, but that doesn't mean that their endangered status is any less important. As I have said before, I believe education and awareness are the cornerstones of conservation - so let me tell you about a little friend named Baba that I recently met at the San Diego Zoo.

Baba is tree pangolin from Central Africa. Pangolins are mammals with strong muscles in their limbs and a prehensile tail that live along the edges of the rain forest.  There are eight species - four in Africa and four in Asia. Pangolins have sharp claws to help them dig, which you can see in this photo as Baba so gently digs into the keepers arm. They have a very good sense of smell to help them find ants, termites, and beetle larvae - the pangolins main diet.

Since they do not eat anything that requires teeth, pangolins have no teeth. Instead, they have a long tongue that can be up to 10" long - that's one big tongue capable of lapping up lots of ants and termites. I was told that the zoo makes a sort of soup for Baba with the necessary nutrients needed to keep him healthy.

Pangolins are covered in hard scales that remind me of a pine cone. These scales are used for protection. When the pangolin feels threatened, they will roll up into a ball (similar to an armadillo) and the scales act as armor.

Sounds great right? Well, the drawback is these scales are made of keratin and like the rhino's horn, the pangolin is hunted by poachers for this and other things. The pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam and Chinese Traditional Medicine believes that the keratin has medicinal powers when it is ground into a fine powder. Pangolin skin is used for making boots, much like a snake skin boot and some still believe that the scales will ward off evil spirits.

Although this particular species of pangolin is not endangered, it is classified as near threatened. Two other species are listed as endangered. Of the eight pangolin species, only three are considered stable in the wild. For more information on the endangered status of the pangolin go here.

Pangolins may look like an armadillo or appear to be related to the anteater, but I learned that the pangolin is its own family. The order Pholidota contains only the family Manidae, which has only one genus, Manis.

Did you know that the pangolin is called the doctor in Tanzania because every part of its body is thought to have healing properties?

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