Appreciate Weird, Adorable Pangolins Before They’re Gone

Across Asia, a plague of hunting has hit pangolins, though it’s not too late to save these intriguing creatures from extinction

Edge of Existence, ZSL

Most people don’t know what a pangolin is, so while the illegal poaching of elephants, rhinos and tigers regularly makes headlines, this rare, odd creature—which is quickly becoming one of the most imperiled mammals on the planet—gets little love. To amend that, pangolin fans have designated this Saturday, February 16th, as the second annual World Pangolin Day, as Mongabay reports.

Pangolins are shaped a bit like small anteaters but are covered in brown scales. They feast upon ants and other insects in the forests of tropical Asia and Africa: their closest evolutionary relatives are carnivores. They are nocturnal and have a painfully shy disposition. Scientists have trouble studying the animals in the wild due to their elusive nature (though hunters seem to have no trouble sniffing the animals’ whereabouts out), and governments and conservation organizations often overlook pangolins in favor of bigger, sexier mascots.

Slowly, however, that’s beginning to change. The nature show host David Attenborough recently said that pangolins would be one of the top 10 species he’d save from extinction, and several conservation organizations have prioritized pangolins among species that they’re aiming to save. Scientists are pushing for pangolin “safe spots,” or protected areas, and increased attention towards the problem puts pressure on governments and law enforcement to crack down on the illegal trade.

The animals’ scales are valued in traditional Chinese medicine concoctions, and their meat is considered the most delicious wildmeat around. In countries such as Vietnam and China, a single pound of roast pangolin can fetch hundreds of dollars. Unborn pangolin fetuses—a delicacy—even turn up in soups. Though killing and selling pangolins and their parts is illegal in these countries, illegal trade is rampant and profitable. The conservation organization TRAFFIC found evidence of 50,000 pangolins poached from Vietnam alone in 2011. This figure may represent just 10 percent of the total numbers lost.

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