Critically Endangered Pangolins Need Our Help
February 5, 2018
An adult male pangolin was rescued by African People & Wildlife in late 2017. (Photo: African People & Wildlife)
Northern Tanzania is home to some of the world’s increasingly endangered pangolins. A recent pangolin rescue by African People & Wildlife (APW) highlights the many threats facing this elusive and fascinating creature—not only in this region but around the world.
Often referred to as a scaly anteater, the pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal. The growing demand for their scales, skin, and meat has led to tens of thousands of pangolins being illegally traded each year. Primarily solitary and nocturnal, pangolins curl up into a tight ball when threatened. While this defense mechanism protects pangolins from wild predators, it can make them easier for poachers to catch.
In late 2017, a local man approached Saitoti Petro, a member of APW’s Warriors for Wildlife team, to tell him he’d captured a pangolin.
“He said he’d been keeping the pangolin in his corn storage shed for several days,” explained Saitoti. “He was looking for a buyer and asked if I was interested.”
Concerned that the pangolin was destined for the illegal wildlife trade, Saitoti took action to save its life. He feigned interest in buying the pangolin but said that he needed to see it before making up his mind. After viewing the animal and offering it water, Saitoti informed the man that the sale of pangolins is a crime punishable by prison time.
“I urged him to turn over the pangolin so that APW could release it back to the wild. He was nervous about getting in trouble with the law, so he readily agreed,” said Saitoti.
"I want others in my country and around the world to understand that pangolins have no special powers. We must all work together to save this animal before it’s too late."
SAITOTI PETRO, WARRIOR FOR WILDLIFE
The pangolin was kept without food in a storage shed for several weeks. (Photo: African People & Wildlife/Saitoti Petro)
Saitoti brought the pangolin to APW’s field headquarters, where it became apparent that the animal was starving and in poor condition.
“The pangolin was an adult male who had probably gone without food for several weeks,” said Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, APW’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “We worked around the clock to save him, but he was too weak to survive. Such a tragic loss underscores the need for greater public awareness about the importance of saving this amazing species.”
Like many people in the region, the pangolin’s captor believed the animal was a good luck charm that would bless his cattle and bring plentiful rain. Such false notions about pangolins are common in many other parts of the world as well. Thought to have healing and spiritual properties, pangolin scales are used in traditional medicines, ceremonial blessings, and curses. In reality, pangolin scales are made of nothing but keratin. They have no more medicinal or spiritual power than a human fingernail.
Misconceptions also exist about other pangolin body parts. In some countries, their blood is considered to be an aphrodisiac, and pangolin fetus soup is believed to enhance a man’s virility. Pangolins are further threatened by the fact that their meat is sought after as a delicacy in China and Vietnam. To a lesser degree, pangolin skin and scales are sometimes used to make fashion accessories.
The number of pangolins left in the wild is unknown, but all eight species—four found in Africa and four in Asia—are considered to be at high risk of extinction. In 2016, pangolins were transferred to Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), giving them the strictest possible protection from international trade. Despite this safeguard, demand for pangolin body parts remains high.
Saitoti and other members of the Warriors for Wildlife team are working across APW’s programmatic landscapes to educate communities about wildlife.
“Pangolins are so rare that most people in my community have never seen one,” said Saitoti. “In fact, this was the first time I had seen one myself. I want others in my country and around the world to understand that pangolins have no special powers. We must all work together to save this animal before it’s too late.”
What can you do to help save pangolins from extinction?
- Share this blog post and video to help spread awareness about the plight of pangolins.
- Support conservationists who are working to protect pangolins and their habitats.
- Alert the authorities and/or local conservation organizations if you see or hear about any suspicious activity involving a pangolin.
- Never buy products sourced from pangolins.
- Never eat pangolin meat.