It looks like a Pokémon. That’s cause it totally inspired one (Sandshrew). The pangolin is like some kind of freakish armadillo-dragon hybrid. But it’s no fearsome, fire-breathing reptile. It doesn’t even have teeth. It’s just a gentle, solitary mammal quietly roving its habitats across Africa and Asia in search of a tasty meal of ants.
That formidable coat of armor, though. When threatened, the pangolin curls into a ball and the hard, spiny scales might protect it from impatient lions, but these are also the pangolin’s curse.
This weird-but-cute animal’s most dangerous predator is man. Pangolins are the most highly trafficked mammal in the world; according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over one million of them have been poached from the wild since the year 2000. Their scales are worth big bucks—they’re used in traditional Chinese medicine as well as African witchcraft. But just like rhino horns, the scales are made of keratin—the same stuff as our hair and nails. Nothing medicinal or magical about that! (Pangolin meat is also considered a delicacy for the middle class in Asia.)
Pangolins have long lived in the shadow of more “charismatic” endangered species like rhinos, elephants, and tigers, so to the average person, they might seem completely alien. But just last week, they received the highest level of protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES): International trade of pangolins—all eight species of them—and their body parts is now illegal. It’s way awesome that these guys are now in the global spotlight. But there’s still a ways to go to ensure illegal trafficking ends and their populations have a chance to rebound. As Chris Shepherd, the Southeast Asia regional director of wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic told the New York Times, individual countries, like Laos, where illegal pangolin trade has been a huge problem, still need to enact laws to enforce the protections.
For now, enjoy this video of a pangolin living the life rolling around in mud. How much does it remind you of a blissed-out cat?
Photo credit: Bart Wursten via Flickr