By now, I have become quite fond of this scaly creature known as the pangolin. It reminds me of a larger, ant and termite eating, more secretive version of my second grade hamster, Marty. Like Marty, the pangolin enjoys keeping to itself, waking at dusk to begin perusing for some grub. After much dark and secretive wandering, they return to home to burrow and rest after an evening spent filling their bellies. Unlike Marty, who loved his burrow, and who only woke up by the time I was in full shut-eye mode, pangolins are illegally hunted for their meat and scales. Granted, Marty was a fraction of the size of pangolins and an entirely domesticated animal, still I could not imagine anyone hunting that little, black fur ball. What makes poaching a pangolin so much more devastating is that they are an endangered species protected under national legislation. Their meat is considered a delicacy throughout Asia, India, and Thailand. Furthermore, their scales are used in traditional eastern medicine causing the demand for the pangolin to be ever present.
Now, I loved Marty, but hamsters are definitely not on the protected list under national legislation. Further, he was comfortable in his glass cage, running on his metal wheel and munching on seeds and nuts that he was fed. I cleaned his cage, let him roam in his exercise ball and made sure his cage was odorless and spotless. Marty was okay in captivity. Unlike Marty, the pangolin's survival rate in captivity is at a shockingly low rate due to their inability to digest the food they are given. Along with digestive issues, the stress is such that their survival rate radically diminishes with each day spent in captivity. Although pangolins are an endangered species, there has been little research done on these mammals. Pangolins are poorly understood because they cannot be extensively researched in captivity and are hard to track and record in their natural habitat because of their nocturnal and private demeanor.
You are probably wondering why I chose to compare Marty, my furry hamster, to the pangolin, a wild, scaly anteater. You have heard of hamsters, know their eating habits, where they live, and probably even had one as a school pet. Do you think hamsters are important to your ecosystem? Do they play a vial role in the ecosystem of your home, classroom, pet shop? They provide entertainment, lessons on responsibility and even a friendship. However, Marty and his hamster buddies do little outside the realm of simply being a pet. Yet, we know and want to protect them from dirty cages, disease, predators (Sam the cat). In other words, we care.
Now, let us look at pangolins...They are necessary and vital to the ecosystem through the regulation of ants and termites that threaten plants, trees, crops and buildings. Why aren't we doing more to protect them? Why aren't we finding ways to study them more extensively? If poachers can hunt and sell thousands of pangolins for their meat and scales, surely there is a way we can find a way to learn more about them. We need to learn more, to develop our understanding and begin to care for something so wonderful and vital to the ecosystem.
Below are articles about Pangolins, one in particular highlighting the latest seized pangolin scales in Vietnam.