Why pangolins find themselves on the verge of extinction and how Madhya Pradesh is fighting on their behalf

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Pangolins are a unique creature of Mother Nature. They have been protecting forests for millions of years. But now, their existence is in danger. In India, two kinds of pangolin are found — Indian pangolin and Chinese pangolin. Except for deserts, Indian varieties of pangolin are found everywhere in the country. But the Chinese pangolins can be found only in north-eastern parts of the country.

Facing existential threat

Pangolins are actually mammals. They are rare, and their shapes are different from other wild animals. This shy nocturnal animal was earlier found in many areas in the country. Pangolins are on the verge of extinction since the hunters and poachers have cast their evil eye on them.

There are eight varieties of pangolin in the world. Four are found in Asia, and the remaining four in Africa. They cosy up in a dugout near any water body. Pangolins sleep through the day and set out of their cell at night in search of food. They also love to make a place of their own. The way tigers make their own area by spraying their urine, pangolins generate a kind of smell from a gland near their anus, to make their own area.

A pangolin breeds between January and March. The female pangolins remain pregnant for three or four months. Only one pango-pup is born in a year. Initially, a mother pangolin feeds her pups with her milk. When the pup is able to move, the mother pangolin emerges from her dugout, carrying the baby on her back, in search of food. The mother pangolin, like any other animal, teaches her pup how to search for food and how to protect itself from any danger.

A few months later, the baby separates from its mother. Another speciality of pangolins is that they know how to climb a tree and how to swim.

Mother Nature has given some exceptional features to this animal. Its body is covered with hard scales that protect the animal from any predator in the wild. This animal’s way of defending itself is also unusual. When there is any danger the animal turns itself into a circle, and, like a football, rolls over from higher lands to lowlands. Nevertheless, its capacity to hear and to see is less than other animals. Yet the animal has an exceptionally strong olfactory organ. This is the reason why the animal can locate food by smelling. A pangolin catches its prey with the help of its tongue. The animal’s tongue is as sharp as a razor and longer than its body. A pangolin catches termite, ants and their eggs from deep ditches with its tongue. Its paws are also very sharp. Besides, like birds, it gulps down stone chips to digest food.

The demand for the scales and the bones of a pangolin is very high in the international market. Therefore, its poaching and trafficking have gone up. In China and Thailand, its scales are used to make medicines that supposedly increase sexual power. The poachers cruelly behave with this harmless animal.

Once the animal is caught, it is thrown into boiling water to peel off its scales. In India, the cost of a pangolin ranges from Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000. On the other hand, in the international market, its prices vary from Rs 10,00,000 to Rs 12,00,000. This is why pangolins are mostly poached and trafficked across the world.

The number of pangolins has declined because of rapid urbanisation and fast dwindling of locales apt to this animal. For this reason, the International Nature Conservation Association has included pangolins in the list of extinct species. The Union government has also brought this animal under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Therefore, poaching, teasing and killing a pangolin are a crime. The World Pangolin Day is observed in February every year to protect this unique creature of nature.

It is necessary to adopt modern technology to increase the population of pangolins and protect them, so that pangolins, like cheetahs, do not vanish from India.

Maintaining ecological balance

Termites and ants destroy crops, fruit trees, as well as other priceless plants found in forests. Termites and ants also make farmlands infertile, causing a huge loss to farmers. To do away with termites, the farmers use pesticides which pose hazards to the health of men and livestock. The chemicals harm the environment and, in the process, pollute crops. Pangolins help us deal with this problem. They keep the population of termites and ants under control, as well as preserve diversity in nature. This is how they maintain eco-balance.

Madhya Pradesh leads the way

Madhya Pradesh has taken several steps to protect pangolins which are on the verge of extinction. The state forest department and the wildlife conservation trust have been working together to protect pangolins. According to MP Chief Forest Conservator (Wildlife) Alok Kumar, pangolins have been radio-tagged. Their daily life, living conditions and other activities are being watched through telemetry, he says.

The efforts of the state forest department will not only protect pangolins, but also help increase their population.

The writer is retired DGP, Madhya Pradesh, and chairman, Citizens for Change Foundation. Views expressed are personal.

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Why pangolins find themselves on the verge of extinction and how Madhya Pradesh is fighting on their behalf
Why pangolins find themselves on the verge of extinction and how Madhya Pradesh is fighting on their behalf
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