I love the word pangolin. It rolls off the tongue with a sort of thick, smooth elegance rather like liquid velvet (let's forget for a moment that liquid velvet would be disgusting in the extreme). The very word pangolin conjures up visions of the exotic, certainly no animal in my homeland has a name like pangolin. They have boring names like "cow" and "death adder". The moment "pangolin" is introduced into a sentence one is immediately transported to a place of lush, wild nature, unique customs and strange yet curiously sexy accents . This transportation happens even if the rest of the sentence is, "I ran over a pangolin with my car."
So what is this pangolin whose very name arouses such feelings in my breast. To be honest it looks rather like a crocodile skin handbag given life. It is low and long and scaly (despite being a mammal). I can imagine this as its battle cry "All this and warm blood too!" I didn't say it was a particularly good battle cry but who cares when your name is pangolin.
Pangolins live in Asia and Africa (not the same ones obviously) and their name derives from a Malay word meaning "walking crocodile handbag". This must cause some confusion to the African pangolins who have probably never heard of Malaysia.
When it all comes down to it pangolins are anteaters. But they have to be the coolest anteaters in the world. They're covered in scaly armour and when danger (such as lions) presents itself they roll themselves into an armoured ball that the claws and teeth of predators can't penetrate. Unfortunately when danger (such as poachers) presents itself they roll themselves into an armoured ball etc etc. Which means all the poachers have to do is pick them up and drop them into a bag. This what happens when evolution doesn't keep up with a changing threat matrix.
And there are pangolin poachers. Quite a lot of them actually. In some of the more economically depressed parts of their habitat they're poached simply to go on the local cook fire. The more financially acute poachers however have their eye on the Chinese medicine trade. Chinese medicine can't get enough of pangolins. Apparently pangolins are good for your health. I can't help pointing out that it doesn't seem to be good for the pangolin's health. All sorts of medicines are made from pangolin bits, mainly the scales. Whether the scales are particularly medically beneficial or simply the most easy to access bit of the pangolin for lazy Chinese medicine practitioners is something I'm not entirely clear on.
Do pangolin components actually have any medical value? Opinion is divided; Chinese medicine practitioners say "yes" everybody else says "What? Are you fucking nuts?" Chinese traditional medicine does seem to consist largely of hacking a bit off the nearest endangered animal and dropping it into a cup of tea but there's probably more to it than that. And it must be admitted that while the world may be running out of pangolins we've still got plenty of Chinese. Lest we lay all the blame for the rapidly diminishing stock of pangolins on the Chinese it must be pointed out that pangolins are also a key ingredient in African traditional medicine. Again the scales are sought after although other bits are used as well.
The end result of being a walking cure for all diseases (from lactation issues through to arthritis according to the person who is making money selling you extract of pangolin) is that every sub species of pangolin is under threat. It should also be pointed out that despite the medical predation the principal reason for pangolin endangerment is habitat loss. Short of moving the pangolins to a different planet I'm not entirely sure what we can do about that.
We should seriously consider moving the pangolins to a different planet. Firstly it would be the salvation of the world's only scaly mammal. How can you argue with that. But even more than that pangolins could be our ambassadors to the galaxy. Can you imagine the reaction of aliens if our first spaceship lands and a horde of pangolins came tumbling out? I can't think of a better way to impress our neighbours in the universe. Once glance and they would be hooked.
And if they're not impressed we can just whisper in their ear that pangolins are a sure fire cure for arthritis.