Meet the Worlds Most Trafficked Animal

Hello to all my lovely readers

It is officially the Easter Weekend everybody, and I have a quick message to all my student readers. Use your easter holidays wisely. Most of your notes should be now completed so revise from these, and sit as many past papers as you possibly can!  Now onto today’s post. Thanks to Donald Trump and his stand on Climate Change this topic has once again been catapulted to the front of all our attention. Climate Change is a fact, but it is not the biggest threat to our planet's biodiversity.  

Over-exploitation and large-scale land use change (e.g. forest to farmland) are two of the largest threats to our biodiversity. Overexploitation is an umbrella time that covers overfishing as well as illegal wildlife trade. Sadly, there has been an increasing demand for rare animal meat and body parts, which have pushed many species closer to extinction including the Sumatran Rhinoceros, the Western Gorilla and Pangolins.

Pangolins have been practically wiped out in Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR caused by relentless illegal trade. World Pangolin Day which was on February 20th succeeded in raising awareness for these scaled mammals. In fact, the King of Natural History himself, David Attenborough, deemed the Pangolin worthy of being one of ten animals he would choose to put on his own personal ark. But what is a pangolin?

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Sir David Attenborough, did not disappoint when he gifted Pangolins a ticket to board his personal Ark. Pangolins are the only mammals in the world that are covered in scales from head to toe. As a group, they are fairly small only comprising of 8 species, all of which, are found on two continents:  Africa (Black-bellied Pangolin, White-bellied Pangolin, Giant ground pangolin and the Temmicks ground Pangolin) and Asia (Indian Pangolin, Philippine Pangolin, Sundra Pangolin and the Chinese Pangolin. Image below).

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Pangolins are solitary and nocturnal animals. These scaly mammals share a dietary preference with anteaters, in that they dine exclusively on ants and termites. To help them out with their dietary choice Pangolins have extraordinarily long tongues, some of which can grow to over 40cm long. If you were lucky enough to stand in front of a Pangolin mid yawn then you would be able to see this long tongue for yourself, and that's it, as these guys are toothless! What they lack for in teeth they make up for with their stomachs. A Pangolins stomach is lined with keratinous spines to help grind up the ants and termites, they have even been spotted ingesting stones to further help this process along.

A Pangolins number one defence strategy, when faced with danger, is to roll into a ball, and if necessary lash their tails at the threat inflicting damage with those spines. Once in the safety of the ball, there is little that a predator can do to get to it as not even a big cat's canines can penetrate a Pangolins outer scales.

Sadly all eight species of Pangolins have been listed by the IUCN as either Vulnerable or Critically Endangered, and their population is constantly decreasing. 2016 was a good year for Pangolins everywhere, as CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) successfully campaigned to transfer all 8 species of Pangolin to Appendix 1. This move has given them full protection against all international trade.

Each year, 100,000 Pangolins are captured across Africa and Asia. Despite the Pangolin becoming a protected species, they are still in demand for their scales and meat.  Cultural beliefs claim that their scales can reduce swelling and improve blood circulation. Even though it has been banned, China is still a key market for using Pangolin scales for traditional medicines (image below).

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Why are Pangolins still victims of illegal wildlife trade? Firstly Wildlife Trade is one of the most profitable businesses to be in, and the profits of pulling it off far outweigh the small consequences of getting caught. It all comes down to demand. If Pangolins have a chance we need to reduce the demand for their meat and scales. Campaigns are aiming to make it socially unacceptable to buy any products involving Pangolin sourced ingredients. A perfect example of how these campaigns can work is Tigers in Tibet,  by showing the Tigers dire situation the demand fell dramatically.

That brings us to the end of today’s post on these cute animals. I would like to think that we have all become Pangolin fans, this poor animal has suffered years of illicit trading with little awareness. The Zoological Society of London have actively engaged with the Pangolin's plight and fighting for them for more info click here. You can do this also by picking at least one fact from today's post and spreading the word.

Alright, guys, this is just a quick message before we head into the Easter Holidays. As I am a full-time tutor and this is fast becoming my busiest season I am not going to be able to keep to the usual blog schedule of every Friday! I am so super sorry for this but please be aware that during this time I am going to be stockpiling some incredible posts lined up for you, so that it is a summer you will not forget! Good luck to all student out there and I will be back here after the exam season.

Science in the City


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