April 18, 2013

I was going to write about how this week in recent history isn’t a particularly good one, containing as it does the Khmer Rouge winning the Cambodian civil war in 1975, the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906, the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut 1983, the end of the siege of Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, the birth of Adolf Hitler, the Columbine Massacre, and finally me breaking my leg like a Kit-Kat last year. But after the Boston Marathon, I thought that maybe I wouldn’t. Except to note that every time I see a headline with ‘Boston Terror’ in it, I read it as ‘Boston Terrier’, which is a little surreal.

Instead, I thought I’d write about pangolins. I have a big thing for pangolins. It all started when I was a small child, taking a car journey with the family. We were discussing animals, and I mentioned that I’d like a pangolin. My parents and brothers hooted with laughter, thinking that I’d made the animal up, and there was no such thing as a scaly anteater. However, I knew better, as I’d read about them a few days earlier in an encyclopaedia, and I was eventually able to prove their existence, although I don’t think anyone apologised. Not enough, anyway.


Despite holding the pangolin in great affection ever since, I’ve never actually seen one. There were some in remote parts of Hong Kong, and a friend claimed to have a number on his tea plantation in Sri Lanka, but I’ve never actually managed to see one in the flesh. But that’s OK – as long as they’re out there, that’s enough to make me happy.

World News - Dec. 21, 2012

But I was horrified to read this week that a Chinese boat that crashed into a protected coral reef in the Philippines was hiding the remains of a second environmental disaster in its hold: hundreds of dead pangolins. A coastguard spokesman said about 400 boxes, totalling over 10 tonnes of frozen pangolins, were discovered. I make that about 750 pangolins.

The Philippine pangolin haul is one of the largest on record. In 2010, 7.8 tonnes of frozen pangolin and 1.8 tonnes of scales were seized from a fishing vessel by customs officers in Guangdong, while a series of customs seizures in Vietnam in 2008 turned up 23 tonnes of frozen pangolins in a week.

All trade in the four Asian species of pangolin has been illegal since 2002, but the Chinese prize the meat as a delicacy, and its scales are believed to benefit breast-feeding mothers. This means the creatures have been virtually wiped out in China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

I’d been hoping to see pangolins in Cambodia, but there are hardly any left. During the dry season, which is coming to an end right now, pangolins tend to stay close to water sources, which helps hunters identify areas where the animals are likely to be. Although hunting methods vary, nylon snares are the most commonly used technique for capturing the pangolin in Cambodia, along with dogs.


However, turning to the internet, I’ve discovered that there is not just one, but two pangolin rehabilitation centres in the country.  Which is a good thing, I suppose. I wonder if striving to make the country a bit richer overall might stop people killing pangolins, but I guess if people want to try and save the pangolin, then good for them. I hope they’re not too late.


One Response to “Pangolins”

  1. Richard Ellis said

    I’m so pleased you saw this awful story to. What amazes and worries me is that there seems to be no interest in sustainability. Still the senate thinks its ok for loonies to have assault rifles. Go figure. Check out Piers Corbyn.

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