This small fellow, also known as the scaly anteater, is Zimbabwe’s rarest animal. It is probably the most special too. Not only is its image engraved on the country’s $2 coin, but it has so much cultural significance: it is said that in the Shona culture it must be given to the king if found. It is that rare, and that is why it is a protected animal.
The creature itself looks peculiar. Its body measures 24 inches from head to tail, and is covered with many hard scales. The pangolin uses these scales for defense purposes. Being a naturally unaggressive mammal, the pangolin rolls up into an impenetrable ball when threatened. Even a lion can fail to pry it open.
The pangolin feeds on ants and termites. Relative to its size, it has the longest tongue of any mammal. The tongue, armed with very stick saliva, helps the pangolin harvest ants and termites from their habitats. It uses the claws on its front legs (which it does not use for walking) to tear open ant and termite mounds. It then uses its long, sticky tongue to draw out as many ants or termites as it needs. As a form of protection from the ants, it possesses very thick eyelids and ears that have special valves.
Unfortunately, fascinating as it is, the pangolin is endangered. Apart from its meat being considered a delicacy, its scales are alleged to have medicinal properties, especially in Asian countries. Pangolins are generally not hunted for food in Zimbabwe – being found in possession of one is a severe crime. However, because of their high demand in Asian markets, pangolins are prime targets for poachers in the country. Perhaps less attention is given to this problem because of other conservation issues dogging the country – rhino and elephant poaching. However, there are efforts by concerned individuals and organizations aimed at fighting pangolin poaching and trade. See Project Pangolin, for example.
I hope you find these little creatures fascinating also. If you ever spot one, you are a very lucky (and adventurous) person.
- Over six tons of rare live pangolins found in Vietnam (newsinfo.inquirer.net)