Friday, May 6, 2011

The Malayan pangolin (Manis javanica) – a creature in trouble

Family : Manidae
Species : Manis javanica

The pangolin is a small yet magnificent creature.  Having read so many articles in the papers on illegal smuggling of this animal, I wanted to highlight the beauty of this animal and its fight for survival.

The pangolin, also known as the scaly anteater, and tenggiling in Malay, is an unusual mammal that is covered with tough, protective scales.  It lives in the forests (primary, secondary, scrub forest) and plantations (rubber and palm oil) of Southeast Asia, and it has been documented within the forests of the Taman Warisan Negeri Selangor.

This ground-dwelling, scaled animal measures close to 1m in length and weighs about 2kg.   The protective scales are made of keratin, which is the same substance that hair, fingernails, and horn are made from.  These scales cover nearly the entire body of the pangolin, except belly, snout, eyes, ears, and undersides of the limbs.

The pangolin is an insectivore, and feeds mainly on ants and termites.  It uses its short legs and huge claws to dig into anthills and termite mounds.   Well adapted for this type of feeding, the pangolin’s face and eyes are protected by thick skin and eyelids. It also has the ability to open and close its nostrils, thus completely protecting itself from ant or termite attack.  While it has no teeth, with it’s long, sticky tongue, it can eat an estimated 200,000 ants or termites per day.

The Pangolin is nocturnal and will rest by day in burrows and tree holes.  While it is mainly a ground dwelling creature, the species is also a skilled climber, aided by its prehensile (grasping) tail - the pangolin can even hang from its tail!  The strong tail also is used to support the animal when it stands up on its hind legs to tear open termite mounds.  

It may roll into a ball when it feels threatened. The species may also hit an enemy with its tail or spray it with urine.  Pangolins are also known to hide by day amongst the foliage of large epiphytes such as the Bird's Nest Fern.

The pangolin will have one or two young at a time. Infants are carried on top of the base of the mother's tail until they are independent. The pangolin can live up to 14 years in captivity.   There are 7 species of pangolins that live in grasslands and forests in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia (Genus Manis).

Pangolins are fully protected species in Malaysia, yet they are under serious threat from poachers.  How many times have we seen articles in the newspapers about crates and crates of these animals being confiscated?  It is frightening when you think about the number of these animals being smuggled.

Pangolins are thought to be a powerful antiseptic; medicines made from their scales supposedly cure fevers, skin disorders and venereal diseases.  Their meat it thought to be an aphrodisiac.  It is reported that buyers from China pay as much as RM1,500 per animal

In this modern day, don’t we have enough antiseptics, fever medicines and Viagra, that traders and customers can purchase other products to cure their ailments?  With regular confiscations of up to 500 pangolins in one load, how many can be left in the wild? 

These creatures cannot speak for themselves.  They cannot ask for help, for better protection from the government.  We have to do that for them.

Please, make it a strong point NOT to buy any medicines made from wild animals.  Please don’t eat these animals.  If you seen any one selling wild animals or parts of wild animals, please call the Department of Wildlife and National Park (DWNP) immediately at 03-9086 6800.  Please write letters to the government and articles to the newspapers to express your concern over the illegal trade in wildlife.  Every little bit you do makes a big difference!

Information extracted from the following sites, please visit them for more excellent information:

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