WHEN IT COMES TO WILDLIFE conservation in India, the lion, tiger, rhino, and elephant seem to get all the attention, thanks in part to their tourism potential.
Yet India’s most hunted animal is actually none of these. It happens to be the pangolin, a toothless, pre-historic mammal that is estimated to have been on earth for nearly 80 million years. In 2015, pangolins were the most traded species in India, even though its trade is illegal.
The sticky-tongued pangolin is harmless to humans and thrives on a diet of ants and termites. When threatened, the timid animal rolls itself into a ball protected by a scaly armour that is so strong that it can withstand even a direct blow with an axe. Ironically, the shield that is supposed to protect them is the main reason for their near-extinction.
Poachers simply walk away with the scared, rolled up pangolin, boil them to death, and tear off its scales. These scales are then used to make traditional medicines that supposedly cure asthma and cancer, all while having aphrodisiac qualities. However, none of these medicinal claims have ever been proven.
The British daily, The Telegraph, reported in January 2015 that according to some estimates, pangolin “sales now account for up to 20% of the entire wildlife black market,” mostly sold in India, China, Thailand and Vietnam.
In the last five years, 4.3 tons of pangolin scales were seized in India alone, according to a study by TRAFFIC, an international wildlife crime detection body, jointly run by the World Wide Fund for Nature and the World Conservation Union. In 2011, 1.8 tons of scales were seized in a single sale in Manipur.
After managing to last 80 million years on earth, the pangolin might have sadly met its nemesis in a human species that hasn’t even been around a fraction of that time.