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Opinions of Monday, 27 April 2020

Columnist: Hadassah Owusu

The scaly anteater

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We often come across amazing creatures one way or the other, we either hear them from friends or chance upon their names while reading. Sitting at the edge of our seats, we may gasp in awe as we watch them on television. Truth is, there are so many amazing creatures left undiscovered. Ever heard of pangolins? Either answer, you would want to know more!

They are scaly anteaters,and belong to the kingdom Animalia, some people think of them to be reptiles but they are actually mammals, (warm-blooded, having fur or hair and feeding milk to its young.) Pangolins are actually the only mammals with scales. The name pangolin is enacted from the Malay word pengguling, meaning "one who rolls up".They have long snouts and tongue, they eat ants,this informs their name, 'Scaly Anteaters'.

Usually found in tropical forests, dry woodlands and in the savannah , eight of their species exist in Asia and Africa. The Chinese pangolin,Indian pangolin,Sunda pangolin and Philippine pangolin inhabit Asia. Out of these four,the Sunda and Philippine pangolin are critically endangered. The Giant pangolin, Ground pangolin, Black-bellied pangolin and White-bellied pangolin are in Africa. The black-bellied pangolin is the smallest specie (about 80 cm long, including the tail) and the giant pangolin is the largest, about 1.8 meters.

They live in hollow trees or burrows, depending on the specie. Pangolins are nocturnal, they have poor vision and hence resort to the auditory and olfactory senses. They are toothless, therefore unable to chew. Their diet consists of mainly ants and termites, which they capture with the sticky saliva on their tongues.What's novel about a pangolin's tongue? When fully extended, a pangolin's tongue, which is rather connected to the bottom of its ribcage is longer than its head and body. About 40cm long !.

Being the only mammals wholly-covered in scales, when threatened the pangolin will curl up into a ball with its overlapping scales acting as an armor. Their scales are that tough, that even a lion's teeth cannot penetrate through them.Again,they are bulletproof!

Weighing up to 40% more,males are larger than females. Pangolins are the shy and solitary type and meet only when they want to mate. They do this usually during the summer or autumn. In the world of pangolins, females rather seek out for males. The male pangolin marks their location with either urine or feces so the females will find them. Interestingly, when there is competition over a female, the males will use their tails as clubs to fight for the chance to mate.

Female pangolins have a gestation period of five months and they produce their kind,a baby pangolin is called a pangopup; they are born with soft scales that harden after two days. Pangopups nurse for about three months, and are inclined to their mothers until they are about 5 months old and then they are free to go. When they are 2,they reach sexual maturity. Some pangolins have been recorded to live up to about 20 years.

Any benefit of their existence? Their large elongated claws enable them to burrow underground to hunt for insects.This helps in mixing up the soil which in turn improves soil aeration.

Their meat is considered a delicacy and pangolin scales,made up of keratin , are sometimes used for traditional Chinese medicine. Their scales and skin are also used to make clothing, shoes, and fashion accessories. The scales account for about 20% of the animal's weight.

Research has it that, an average of 300 pangolins are poached every day. This makes pangolins the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world. In countries like China and Vietnam,pangolins are in high demand.

Somewhere in the month of February 2012,the first pangolin day was observed, since then, every third Saturday in the month of February is marked to raise the awareness,uniqueness and the plight of the poor shy pangolin. In 2016, an alliance of over 180 governments heralded a consensus that would end all legal trade of pangolins and further protect the species from extinction. However, illegal trade of the species still continues. Nevertheless, in 2017 live pangolins could sell $200 per kilogram and the price of their sales increased from $300 per kilogram to $600

Xinhua news agency in December 2019, reported the seizure of over 10 tonnes of pangolin scales in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou. Reports has it that ,this was the largest seizure of pangolin scales by Chinese customs officials up to that point in 2019. The pangolins in question were said to be African pangolins.

All eight species of pangolins are now on the threshold of facing extinction. Studies reveal that between 2000 and 2019, at least 85,000 pangolins were trafficked internationally.

Now, some schools of thought have implicated the shy pangolin in the novel Corona Virus Disease (COVID 19) pandemic. They call it the" revenge of the pangolin". As to whether this is veracity, no one really knows.

So dear reader, when next you use the exit door of that shop and carry yourself beautiful sophisticated clothes, shoes or accessories please know that a pangolin one way or the other may have lost its dear life. The aesthetic of the issue is, pangolins are amazing creatures, if we let them be, we could afford them a beautiful smile. HAIL PANGOLINS!