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The pangolin is in need of a PR campaign

By Rosemary Bogler | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-26 08:06

The pangolin is in need of a PR campaign

The Chinese pangolin is said to be extinct in the wild. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Do you know what a pangolin is? An instrument, guessed one friend. Term for a baby panda, perhaps? A tropical fruit grown in Indonesia, was another oddly specific response.

I've been conducting this haphazard survey ever since I came across the pangolin in a story about an illegal wild animal trafficking operation.

While having a low profile with the general public, it seems the pangolin is well-known in the black market trade in dead or live animals. That's right, the pangolin is an animal. Imagine an aardvark with an even more impressive suit of armor and an endearing habit of curling up into a tight ball.

The very scales designed to protect it from predators are exactly what has made it a target for illegal hunting. Their defense mechanism of rolling up in a ball may be enough to confuse lions, but, in a cruel twist, it makes it easy for hunters to simply pick them up.

All eight variations of the pangolin from Asia and Africa are now among the most endangered mammals. Wildlife organizations estimate 100,000 pangolins are captured each year, fetching up to $3,000 a kilogram. Pangolin meat is a delicacy and their tough scales are either turned into decoration or dried for use in traditional medicine in Asia.

So why hasn't anyone who doesn't want to eat them know about them?

Clearly, this scaly critter needs better PR.

Infographic: Saving pangolins

Hampering their cause is that you're unlikely to see a pangolin in a zoo. No wild animal enjoys being caged, but it seems the pangolin really can't hack it, becoming stressed, depressed and dying early. It's hard to mount a successful for campaign for an animal that 99 percent of the population will never see in real life, let alone have your photo taken with one.

Perhaps part of the reason they don't farewell in captivity is because not much is known about them. We know they eat ants, but their diet may include all kinds of other bugs. We don't know how long they live in the wild or much about their breeding habits. They are mammals of mystery.

It's a vicious cycle, without much love for the creature, there's little pressure to throw precious scientific research funding dollars at it.

They haven't been completely forgotten. There are admirable and hardworking people dedicated to shutting down the illegal pangolin trade and running rehabilitation centers in Asia on shoestring budgets. There is World Pangolin Day and you can buy a "save pangolins" T-shirt online.

But without a significant increase in support, these mammals of mystery are at serious risk of disappearing entirely before most people even know they exist.

It may not be as cute and cuddly as a panda, or as strong as a rhino, but it only takes an online image search to see this peculiar creature has potential. They're shy, nonaggressive and their bizarre scaly shell has earned them cute nicknames such as "walking pinecone" and "modern day dinosaur".

And I haven't even mentioned their super sticky tongue can be longer than their body, ideal for scooping up ants.

So now the panda is off the endangered list, let's dedicate some of our animal love and social media space to this bizarre, misunderstood creature.


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