Pangolin, the critically endangered scaly Anteater

Feb 22, 2016 12:12 IST

PangolinsPangolins, the scaly anteaters and insectivorous mammals of the order Pholidota, were in news because 20 February 2016 was observed as the fifth annual World Pangolin Day.

The day is celebrated annually on the third Saturday of February with a hope to raise awareness about these unique mammals and their plight.

On the eve of World Pangolin Day, TRAFFIC India, a division of WWF-India, stressed on the need to save these creatures as they are on the verge of becoming extinct due to illegal poaching and habitat loss.

There are eight species and they are only found in Africa and Asia, of which two are known from India namely Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) and Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla).

In India, it is a protected animal under Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 meaning that no trade is permitted.

Asian pangolins:
• Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) – Critically Endangered
• Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) – Critically Endangered
• Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) – Endangered
• Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis) – Endangered

African pangolins:
• Cape or Temminck’s Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) – Vulnerable
• White-bellied or Tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) – Vulnerable
• Giant Ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) – Vulnerable
• Black-bellied or Long-tailed pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla) – Vulnerable

Characteristic features of Pangolins
• The word Pangolin is derived from Malay word Punggoling, which means something that, rolls up.
• These species are a scaly variant of anteaters and are mammals with an exterior formed by hard, plate-like scales generally feeds on ants and termites.
• They don't have teeth and use their long, sticky tongue to hunt insects and gulp them.
• Their scales are made from keratin — the same protein that forms human hair and finger nails.
• Pangolin undersides do not have scales, and are covered with sparse fur.
• Unlike African pangolins, Asian pangolins also have thick bristles that emerge from between their scales.

Threat faced by the species
• Reports have indicated a growing demand for pangolin meat in India, which has the potential to put the species under immense pressure. They are among the most frequently seized species smuggled in Asia.
• Seizure reports from 2009 to 2013 have revealed that around 3350 pangolins were poached in India alone. However, it may only be a conservative estimate since a large part of this illegal trade remains undetected.
• In India, the species are trapped and killed for local trade and to cater to international markets in China and South-East Asia where there is a heavy demand for their scales, skin and meat.
• Further, pangolins are ritualistically hunted during 'Shikar Utsav' in eastern Indian states.

Why they are exploited?
• Their meat is deemed a delicacy among several communities and is also consumed because of its alleged medicinal properties.
• Pangolin scales are widely used in traditional oriental medicines as an aphrodisiac and to cure ailments ranging from asthma and psoriasis to cancer. However, the medical efficacy of the scales remains unproved!
• Their scales are also made into rings or charms.
• Their skins are used to manufacture leather goods like boots and shoes.

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