Zimbabwe’s Elusive and Critical Endangered Pangolin

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The shy and reclusive pangolin tries to keep a low profile while going about its business of eating ants and termites, but despite this unassuming demeanor — the pangolin is the biggest victim of poaching on earth. Tens of thousands of pangolins are illegally trafficked every year, leading to major seizures like one in China that contained over 3 tons of pangolin scales.

As the eight pangolin species are poached near extinction, advocates of the species are all that stands between them and being wiped off the face of the planet. Their champions include Zimbabwe’s Tikki Hywood Trust, which fosters orphaned and rescued pangolins, spreads awareness of their plight, fights for policies that protect threatened species, and engages in breeding programs to help restore their numbers.

Visitors on a Zimbabwe safari vacation who love animals should therefore make sure visit the Tikki Hywood Trust web page first to learn about how locals are fighting to protect the unique species that help make our planet beautiful.

Pangolins: Nature’s Insectivorous Knights in Scaled Armor

Pangolins are the sole remnants of the family Manidae, which are the only mammals to have hard scales made of keratin. While pangolin look like a cross between anteaters and armadillos, they are actually not closely related to either.

The pangolin’s natural diet consists of ants, termites and various insect larvae. They have a highly particular diet designed to give them optimal nutrition. Because of this picky eating, pangolins have to forage widely to find the species they prefer, making habitat loss another devastating contributor to their dwindling numbers.

Pangolins are also solitary and shy, foraging only and night and avoiding contact with others in their species outside of mating periods. Since they are somewhat short, blend in with the forest floor and can be quite fast, they are elusive to researchers, sometimes preventing accurate counts of their numbers in the wild.

When threatened, the pangolin curls up into tight balls as a defense mechanism. Its scales are so tough that even lions have trouble getting through them. Unfortunately, these beautiful and unique scales also make the pangolin a target of poachers. The scales are prized as fashion accessories or components of ancient Chinese medicine — although modern medical research indicates no benefits whatsoever. Pangolin meat is also considered an exotic delicacy, although personal accounts suggest that the animal is not particularly tasty by any means.

So, because of unfortunate misconceptions and the tragic desire for status symbols, the pangolin is being hunted to death based on myths and misunderstandings.

Protecting Pangolins on Your Zimbabwe Safari Tour

If your aim is to help lift the chances of pangolin survival, make sure you engage in the following activities:

  • Familiarize yourself with wildlife protection laws and policy so that you can educate yourself and others on what it takes for governments and people to take action
  • Seek vendors who partner with organizations like the Tikki Hywood Trust when going on a Zimbabwe safari tour
  • Recognize the beauty of pangolins and the bravery and compassion of those who try to protect them
  • Report any pangolin scale artifacts or serving of pangolin “bush meat” to the Zimbabwe authorities; refuse to give money to vendors who engage in these practices

You can begin to explore the world of the gorgeous and enchanting pangolin on a Zimbabwe safari tour with your family.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

image: Getty Images

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