World Pangolin Day
Published On: February 18, 2023 11:15 AM NPT By: Shila Gurung
The 18th of February is observed as World Pangolin Day. However, most of us are still unaware of the existence of this unique and significant animal. So, what the heck is a pangolin? Aside from being shy and slow-moving creatures, guardians of precious natural resources to ecosystem engineers, these small creatures have an inevitable role to play on the planet – a very vital one!
In celebration of World Pangolin Day, let’s talk more about pangolins and their existence. Most of us may not encounter a pangolin in real life. If so, we are not alone! Because pangolins are shy-natured and nocturnal animals. So, they tend to make rare contact with humans. It is the only mammal wholly covered with scales and found in the jungles of Asia and Africa.
There are eight species of pangolins in the world and they all are listed as threatened with extinction by the IUCN. Their illegal trade is punishable by a fine of Rs 1 million and/or 15 years of imprisonment. Nepal is home to two major species of pangolins - Chinese and Indian pangolins. They are reported from 61 districts. Pangolins are found in a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and agricultural lands with an altitude range from the Terai plain to 2000m.
An adult pangolin weighs 6.6 pounds and consumes more than 0.66 pounds of termites just in a single meal. A single pangolin can consume approximately 70 million ants and termites per year. 70 million! So, their ravenous appetite regulates insect populations and minimizes loss and damage to crops and forest. Additionally, they act as “soil caretakers” by burrowing soil for their meal and shelter, a process that facilitates soil mineral distribution and aeration. These small creatures are serving as “ecosystem engineers” simply through their everyday behaviors.
But little did we know that pangolins are inching closer and closer to extinction. Their number is dwindling. It is the most trafficked mammal in the international wildlife trade. Many cultures wrongly believe that the pangolins’ scales have medicinal value which creates a huge black trade of pangolins. But modern science has found no medicinal properties in a pangolin’s scales since it is made up of beta keratin, similar to human nails. At present, the extinction of pangolins may seem like a minimal loss but cascading effects on the ecosystem awaits if the pangolins become extinct.
(The author is a forestry student at the Institute of Forestry, Pokhara.)
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