A pangolin is a very unique animal: it is the only mammal in the world with scales! Some people refer to them as a walking pinecone because of them. The scales are there for protection: when a pangolin is startled, they roll into an impenetrable ball and will "unroll" when the threat is gone. That's how they got their name: “pangolin”, derived from the Malay word “pengguling”, which loosely translates to “something that rolls up”.
Pangolins are insectivores, only eating ants and termites. They have long, sharp claws to break ant and termite nests, to rip off bark from the trees and to give them a better grip during climbing.
Then there's another special feature about the pangolin: their tongue! They have long and sticky tongues to lick up ants and termites as fast as possible.
Their tongues actually start deep in their chest cavity, arising from the last pair of ribs! Pangolins don't have teeth. In stead, ants and termites are being "grinded" in their stomachs with the help of the sand or dirt they ingest while feeding.
They reach sexual maturity around 2 years of age and usually give birth to a single pup.
There are 8 species of pangolin in the world; 4 species in Asia and 4 species in Africa.
Asian pangolin species:
African pangolin species:
Liberia is home to the White-bellied pangolin, the Black-bellied pangolin and the Giant Pangolin.
Unfortunately, pangolins are under threat...
Liberia has a long history of consuming bushmeat: from duikers and civets, to monkeys, snakes and pangolins; everything ends up on a plate.
In addition, many pangolins are being poached all over Africa to be shipped to Asia (mostly China and Vietnam), where they believe the scales of the pangolin serve medical purposes . This is not true, as pangolin scales are made of keratin, just like our hair and finger nails. Because the Asian species are becoming extinct, the Asian market is now targeting African species to supply the demand.
Pangolin meat is not only favored in Africa, it is also considered a delicacy, in Asia. The bushmeat trade and the demand for pangolin scales for medicinal purposes gave the pangolins the disputable title of "most trafficked animal in the world."
Researchers estimate that more than 2 million pangolins have been illegally traded in the last 16 years. They are sought for more than elephant tusk, rhino horn and tiger parts COMBINED.
With increased scarcity, it has been difficult to estimate current populations of the 8 pangolin species. However, international pressure has mounted to prevent the pangolin’s extinction. Last year at CITES’ Conference of the Parties, where the world’s conservation agencies meet, pangolins received appendix I protection. Appendix I represents the highest level of protection offered by the organization and pressures the 183 affiliated nations to enforce the strictest possible conservation measures.
There is a new wildlife law in Liberia that has been passed in November 2016 that states that it is now illegal to eat, keep, catch, sell, kill or transport endangered and protected wildlife in Liberia, including the pangolins.
The Ebola crisis of 2014 had put a temporary halt on the consumption of bushmeat, only to start over again after the disease was under control.
If we don't take action now, extinction is right around the corner...
So far, 65 pangolins have been brought to the sanctuary, ( 51 White-bellied pangolins and 14 Black-bellied pangolins) both young animals and adults. We already successfully released 44 pangolins, and others will soon be ready for release. Unfortunately, 21 died because of their injuries, stress, dehydration or starvation after being captured by poachers.
Pangolin rehabilitation is not easy, mainly due to their diet: they only eat ants and termites. As we cannot feed them ants and termites in a feeding bowl, we must walk them in the forest several times a day for at least 1 hour and a half so they can forage. Because this is not an easy task to do, combined with the care of the many other animals at the sanctuary, the sanctuary had to employ 3 extra staff (Local staff) to walk the pangolins, making pangolins the most expensive animals in our care.
Do you want to help out after reading about pangolins? There are many ways you can help:
Check out this great video and learn more about pangolins!
Pangolin.Africa has partnered with Pangolin Photo Safaris, Biggest Leaf Travel and award-winning South African filmmakers Bruce Young and Johan Vermeulen to produce a powerful, awareness raising film about the critical situation facing the African pangolin.
From the co-director of Blood Lions, this powerful documentary is the story of two men on a mission to get all four species of African pangolin on camera for the very first time. As they travel the continent to learn more about those caring for and studying pangolins they are captivated by these strange, secretive creatures and document the race to save them from being poached to extinction.
Check out this amazing video made by One Planet Conservation Awareness regarding pangolin conservation around the world featuring our staff and rescued pangolins!
Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary
Marshall Highway, Kpans Town, Margibi County, Liberia
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Pictures by Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary / @charlottevdgaag / Luke Branno
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