These animals, which might be taken for reptiles rather than mammals,
are found in the warmer parts of Asia and throughout Africa.
Pangolins range from 1 to 3 ft. in length, exclusive of the tail,
which may be much shorter than or nearly twice the length of the rest of the animal.
Their legs are short, so that the body is only a few inches off the ground; the ears
are very small; and the tongue is long and worm-like, and used to capture ants.
Their most striking character, however, is the coat of broad overlapping horny scales,
which cover the whole animal, with the exception of the undersurface of the body,
and in some species, the lower part of the tip of the tail.
Besides the scales, there are generally, especially in the Indian species,
a number of isolated hairs, which grow between the scales, and are scattered
over the soft and flexible skin of the belly.
There are five toes on each foot, the claws on the first toe rudimentary,
but the others, especially the third of the forefoot, long, curved, and laterally compressed.
In walking, the fore-claws are turned backwards and inwards, so that the weight
of the animal rests on the back and outer surfaces, and the points
are thus kept from becoming blunted.
The skull is long, smooth and rounded, with imperfect zygomatic arches,
no teeth of any sort, and, as in other ant-eating mammals, with the bony palate
extending unusually far backwards towards the throat.
The lower jaw consists of a pair of thin rod-like bones, welded to each other at the chin,
and rather loosely attached to the skull by a joint which, instead of being horizontal,
is tilted up at an angle of 45°, the outwardly-twisted condyles articulating
with the inner surfaces of the long glenoid processes
in a manner unique among mammals.
Another armored animal – scale
lapping scale with spruce-cone regularity until they
form the uninterrupted central
tail-row! This near artichoke with head and legs and grit-equipped gizzard,
the night miniature artist engineer is,
yes, Leonardo da Vinci’s replica –
impressive animal and toiler of whom we seldom hear.
Armor seems extra. But for him,
the closing ear-ridge –
or bare ear lacking even this small
eminence and similarly safe
contracting nose and eye apertures
impenetrably closable, are not; a true ant-eater,
not cockroach eater, who endures
exhausting solitary trips through unfamiliar ground at night,
returning before sunrise, stepping in the moonlight,
on the moonlight peculiarly, that the outside
edges of his hands may bear the weight and save the claws
for digging. Serpentined about
the tree, he draws
away from danger unpugnaciously,
with no sound but a harmless hiss; keeping
the fragile grace of the Thomas-
of-Leighton Buzzard Westminster Abbey wrought-iron vine, or
rolls himself into a ball that has
power to defy all effort to unroll it; strongly intailed, neat
head for core, on neck not breaking off, with curled-in-feet.
Nevertheless he has sting-proof scales; and nest
of rocks closed with earth from inside, which can thus darken.
The true scale of the slaughter of pangolins in Africa has been revealed
by new research showing that millions of the scaly mammals are being hunted and killed.
Pangolins were already known to be the world’s most trafficked wild mammal,
with at least a million being traded in the last decade to supply the demand
for its meat and scales in Asian markets.
Populations of Asian pangolins have been decimated,
leaving the creatures highly endangered
and sharply shifting the focus of exploitation to Africa’s four species.
Pangolins are secretive, nocturnal and some species live in trees,
making them very hard to count and the total size of the populations in Africa is unknown. But the new analysis, based on data collected by hundreds of local researchers
at scores of hunting sites and bushmeat markets across central and west Africa,
found up to 2.7m are being killed every year,
with the most conservative estimate being 400,000 a year.
Pangolins curl up into a scaly ball when threatened, which defeats natural predators
like lions but is no defence against human hunters.
The researchers found half the animals had been snared or trapped,
despite wire snares being illegal in most of the 14 central African nations
analysed in the research.
Almost half of the pangolins killed were juveniles,
an indicator that the populations are being dangerously overexploited
as animals are being caught before they can reproduce.
This is particularly harmful as pangolins are slow breeding
and produce only a single pup every year or two.
Extracts from Encyclopedia Britannica 1911, Marianne Moore’s The Pangolin and Other Verse 1936 (layout with indents unfortunately lost in translation) and The Guardian 2017. Wiki Commons images.
World Pangolin Day 15th February 2020