PANGOLINS, commonly called Kakakuona in Swahili, are sometimes termed as scaly anteaters, these mammals are burrowers eating ants and termites using their extraordinary long, sticky tongue.
When disturbed, pangolins roll into a ball, erect the scales, flail the tail and move the edged scales in a cutting motion.
This kind of motion is the only defence mechanism that pangolins use to avoid enemies including human beings and large predators.
The quickly rolling ability of pangolins aids them in protection of their tender undersides. They have scales with very sharp edges which help them an enemy be it a human being or any other predator when threatened. Pangolins have an average weight of 5 to 25 kilogrammes and normally inhabit forest savannah areas.
In Tanzania, they are found in national parks like Serengeti, Mikumi, and Ruaha. They are also found in Game Reserves. Normally solitary but during mating season they occur in pairs, pangolins feed on termites and ants, and can be seen in human farms.
Pangolins, like many other animals in the bush, are threatened by illegal trade and poaching, trade in wildlife is allowed under laws as a form of foreign currency business.
The demand for pangolins in some countries in Asia and Africa is high for traditional medicine and for their meat while their scales are roasted for medicinal purposes as it is for rhino horns, pushing their demand to increase dramatically.
According to the Environmental News Network, pangolins were worth around USD10 or equal to 20,000/- Tanzanian shillings per kilogramme in the early 1990s. Increased market demand of pangolins pushed the price per kilogramme to USD177 or equal to 407,000/- Tanzanian.
Due to this reason, pangolins’ life has become in danger causing poachers who know the value of this business to fight to get them.
Nature conservationists and other wildlife lovers have been working day and night to rescue the lives of wildlife from such threats.
The Tanzanian government is also playing a potential role in conserving wild animals, whereby people found guilt involving in wildlife trade are prosecuted, sentenced and jailed according to laws.
We have witnessed government efforts in protecting wildlife by arresting people carrying reptiles illegally in their bags at the Julius Nyerere International Airport transporting them to other countries.
It is obvious that people use air navigation to transport animals but most of them have been captured red handed and fall into police officers and become charged according to laws.
The government has put barriers in in important exit areas like ports and airports to make sure that whenever wildlife is transported illegally, the responsible person is arrested and sent before the court of law.
Examples of efforts being done by the government to stop illegal pangolin trade are many. In 2013 Selous Game Reserve wildlife officers arrested a poacher carrying a pangolin at Msolwa.
In this interrogation, the poacher explained that they use sell and sometimes use pangolin in their local beliefs as shield against game wardens, in the sense that they cannot be easily caught by wildlife officers when using pangolin medicines.
In view of such beliefs, it is important that the important that the community, especially those living near game reserves and national parks, must be given conservation community awareness on the importance of pangolins and their habitats and reasons why they need to be conserved.
Lack of conservation community awareness, habitat destruction and increased local beliefs have put pangolin into great risk of being killed.
Pangolin are nocturnal mammals and therefore when seen during day time, many people are amazed by their morphology.
Their secretive behavior, movement and their ball-like rolling style makes the local communities think the animal might have mystical powers and therefore must be hunted. The appearance of the nocturnal animal during day time may be accelerated by different human activities including habitat destruction and fires.
From an ecological point of view, when a habitat is destroyed and when uncontrolled fire erupts, nocturnal animals such as hyenas and pangolins are forced to move to safe areas. Following these uncontrolled fires in the bush at night, pangolins are forced to move towards safe environments to save their lives and in so doing walk for a long time until the sun rises and are found by people who snatch and eventually kill them for local beliefs.
The Sangu people of Rujewa in Mbarali District, Mbeya Region perceive the appearance of pangolins as an event of considerable significance. When a pangolin is seen, they always conduct rituals which involve various members of the local community, including the chief.
The ritual event ends up with the ritual sacrifice of the pangolin itself. Sangu people believe that pangolins fall down to the earth from the sky and this is considered to be the abode of the ancestors whom they call amanguluvi who send pangolins down to the earth. The Bena people of Njombe Region believe pangolin to be as an animal that brings grace to them.
They assume that when in a given season a pangolin is seen, it is a sign of fortune that assumes rainy and crop production will be high. Other Bena people believe a pangolin is an animal that comes to earth supernaturally thus its appearance becomes strange and assuming the animal has potential magic status in local beliefs.
Generally, in most other local communities like Jita, Sukuma, Chaga, Zaramo and Nyamwezi take the appearance of pangolin as the highly auspicious message from God which tells people about the environmental and political episodes that could happen in near future.
In some places these rarely seen creatures are considered as important indication of the starting of the communal rituals in which they are asked to divine the future.
To do so, their behavior and other contexts are closely and careful observed, interpreted and speculated upon by ritual specialists and general public which end up predicting coming events such as floods, famine, drought, social warfare as well as other events in the life of the community.
Due to the above importance, when people see a pangolin they always like to touch it. The Bende and Fipa tribes of Katavi and Rukwa regions respectively take the appearance of pangolin as a great miracle that come with a strange message.
Once a pangolin is seen, it is taken to the football ground or any other open public area.
Then elders carrying local tools like spears, axe and arrows, seeds like maize and millet are placed near the pangolin and felt free to walk and touch among the given items. If the pangolin touches maize or millet grains, then it will be perceived that the season will have abundant food and rainfall and people will start preparing farms.
If for one reason or the other the pangolin touches spears or arrows, then it is perceived that there will be to social upheaval and that care must be taken to guard peace in the community to avoid bloodshed in the society.
Meanwhile local farmers congregate at Kibaigwa International Cereal Market in Kogwa District to sell and buy maize which is either sold locally or exported.
These cereals including maize, sorghum, wheat and groundnuts are produced in all regions of the country but most of the farmers depend on rainfall to have good harvests.
Despite of the many rivers that flow from many parts of the country, very few farmers have ventured into irrigation farming of cereals on a large scale. Due to dependence on rainfall, Tanzanian farmers are at time forced to follow cultural beliefs to ensure that they get bumper harvests.
Farmers believe that if a pangolin is seen and given items to choose and points to a bowl of maize flour, that predicts that there will be enough food to ensure whatever is planted to germinate, grow and get ripe ready for harvest.
People across central and southern part of Tanzania believe that if this rare mammal wonders out from its hidings, it carries a special massage from ancestors to the people to warn them against a coming civil war, drought, hunger, heavy rainfall or good harvest in the coming season.
In some areas when a pangolin is seen, normally people will not kill it, instead they will take it to an elderly man who observed traditions who will place water in a container for rain, machete for war and flour for food in front of the mammal and stand aside to observe which container the pangolin will go nearer to. After “pointing” to one of the lined items, then all people waiting for the pangolin to make the “prediction” will erupt in joy or sorrow.
There are three species of pangolins in Africa which are the giant pangolin, tree pangolin and the most widespread, the ground pangolin which is mostly found in central Tanzania.
Pangolins have small heads and long, broad tails and are toothless. They also have no external ears although their hearing is very good beyond your ability while their sense of scent is well developed but their sight is poor.
The weight of the protective keratinous scales and skin make up about 20 percent of the animal’s weight but pangolin preens itself by scratching with the hind legs, lifting its scales so the claws can reach the skin.
Also, it uses its tongue to remove insects from under the scales. Pangolins are nocturnal and remain in their burrows during the day but are able to roll themselves into a ball to defend themselves while it takes considerable force to unroll them.
The armor plated scales which protect them are very sharp capable of cutting a human finger if it is inserted between them. The scales of a pangolin are controlled by powerful muscles to protect the delicate body.
Before rolling up its body to protect itself from predator’s claws, a pangolin may try to scare its enemy by strongly emitting secretions of bad smell from its anal glands. A pangolin curls itself to protect from enemies.
Pangolins are normally solitary. Females move alone with their young but occasionally are accompanied in their burrow by a male.
A female bears six inches long litter which weighs 340 grams at birth with pale soft scales which begin to harden after a second day. However, but the baby is normally folded in the mother’s lap or in rolled up body posture. Pangolin nurse their babies for three to four months after which it begins to eat termites.
When the baby pangolin is one months old, it begins to accompany the mother, perhaps riding on the base of her tail but when the mother senses danger, the baby slips under her and is protected when she rolls up her body.
Pangolins use their sense of smell to locate termites and ant nests. They dig the insects from mounds with their claws and use their 16-inch-long tongues to pick and eat them but in a resting position.
The tongue is pulled back into a sheath that retracts into the chest cavity. Large salivary glands coat the long tongue with gummy mucus to which ants and termites are trapped and stick on it before being dumped into the mouth easily.
However, with all their beauty, pangolins’ population in many parts of Africa where it is found has adversely been reduced as some people believe that the mammal has magical powers of neutralizing witchcraft and evil spirits when its scales are mixed with barks from certain trees.
In some areas, pangolins are sacrificed for rainmaking ceremonies, and in the Far East especially in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and China people hunt and kill the mammal only for its food.
The common pangolin prefers sandy soils and is found in woodlands and savannas, within reach of water where they walk some miles each night to look for food and water but tends to return into a same burrow which they may occupy for many months.