Monday, February 8, 2010

Animal Profile: Sunda Pangolin

The sunda pangolin, or Malayan scaly anteater is a nocturnal mammal found in Malaysia and Singapore. Similar species exist throughout Asia and Africa in varying sizes but all have one thing in common; their soft bodies are covered in armoured plating. The thick plates are made from keratin, the same stuff your fingernails are made of and give the pangolin a great defence against predators, as well as the biting jaws of its prey; ants and termites. The scales overlap, making it very difficult for the ants or termites to attack the pangolin’s soft flesh underneath; their only hope if they are to defend their colony against its long, sticky tongue. The pangolin’s tongue is extremely long in relation to its body size and can reach right down into an insect nest (sometimes up to 40cm!), slurping up its inhabitants by the hundreds. It also has sharp, curved fore claws, ideal for scraping through termite mounds. However these curved claws are clumsy to walk on, and so the pangolin often holds them up and scuttles around on its hind legs in a sort of comical crouch.

Pangolins can emit a noxious odour in a similar way to a skunk, making them unlikely prey for larger animals. However if they are attacked, the razor sharp scales are a great defence; it can curl into a ball, tucking its face under its legs and it will be safe from anything that wants to eat. Well, almost anything. Unfortunately the pangolin’s biggest threat is man; they are often sought after for Chinese medicine and many people believe that pangolin soup can cure asthma. Trade in pangolins and pangolin products has lead to them appearing on the IUCN Red List as ‘Endangered’. Their population in the wild is decreasing also due to loss of habitat; in Malaysia and Singapore pangolins inhabit rainforest, which is fast being cleared for logging, urban development or plantations.

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