When you think of poaching, do you think of a large animal with some sort of tusk, like an elephant or a rhino?Surprisingly the most poached animal in the world isn’t large or tusky. It’s a small and scaly creature called the pangolin.
The Pangolin is a small mammal covered in large overlapping scales made of Keratin (the same substance hair and fingernails are made of). A nocturnal animal, there are eight different varieties of pangolin. Generally found in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, their diet consists of ants and termites.
WORLD'S WEIRDEST: PANGOLIN With its giant digging claws, the pangolin is nature's backhoe. And a long, sticky tongue—capable of slurping up thousands of ants or termites every day—makes it the scourge of the bug world
Though they may look like weird-scaly anteaters they are actually not a part of the anteater family at all. In fact, they have no close relatives, they’re completely unique.
So why are these creatures being so heavily poached?
It’s all to do with the scales.
The pangolin’s scales are used in traditional medicine, fashion and even eaten in high-end cuisine. Scientists have suggested that more than one million pangolins have been poached in the past decade.
Image: PHOTOGRAPH BY CEDRIC AND ELYANE JACQUET
“The threat is significant and escalating, “due to the high demand for consumption, they are disappearing,” said Jeff Flocken North American director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The amount of pangolins being killed annually makes it almost impossible to track their numbers. So there’s no way of knowing just how many are left of the species.
The worst affected areas are China and South East Asia where the demand for the scaly creature has risen.
“Anything that is really rare and exotic is desirable. It’s a symbol of wealth, anything seen to be delicacy is now in vogue” said Crawford Allan, senior director of the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC at World Wildlife Fund.
11,000 pangolins have been trafficked in just the past three months. Last June 4.4 tonnes pf pangolin scales were confiscated. The shipment was estimated to contain 1,100 to 6,600 murdered African pangolins, valued at 1.25 million dollars.
Unfortunately, until the demand for pangolin decreases, there will always be a market for them.
“You can pour as much money as you want into enforcement, but so long as the demand is still there and the consumer market is there and the price is so high, the criminal networks will always find a way to poach animals and get these stolen gems of nature to the black market.” Says Allan.
Header: PHOTOGRAPH BY CEDRIC AND ELYANE JACQUET