A pangolins perspective

Updated: Aug 16

It had been a hot day under the African sky as the sun began to set. A tall camel thorn tree stood proudly with its overarching umbrella shaped structure, casting a large shadow over the bushes and shrubs which grew below. Hidden by the foliage of these bushes lay a medium sized hole with compacted mud around its edges to prevent it from caving in on itself. Beyond the hole was a dark tunnel which led into the heart of a Temminck’s pangolin burrow. The pangolin lay asleep with its body curled up tightly around itself. It lay motionless for a while except for the small rise and fall of its torso from it breathing, while its eyes remained shut. Suddenly the body twitched into life, uncurled its body and gave a small yawn.



Timmy sniffs the ground for the scent of termites


“That was a great day’s sleep” thought Timmy to himself. It looks like I’ve built up quite the appetite, he said to himself hearing his stomach growling. He turned around and slowly crawled his way out of his burrow. Just outside the burrow he raised his body onto his two back feet and sniffed the air. A number of animals had come through this way throughout the day, he could see their tracks and smell their scents. However, he wasn’t interested in those animals, he was only interested in dinner, which was made up of two insects, namely termites and ants. He scurried off quickly in the darkening night, following his nose in this direction and that. Soon he came to a medium sized semi-circle mound just above the ground. Timmy smelt the air again. “Hmmm, that smells tasty” he thought and started scraping the dry earth away with his large front claws.


In no time there was a burst of activity from within the mound as hundreds of termites came clambering out of the hole where Timmy had just dug. Within seconds, Timmy whipped out his long sticky tongue and fed it through the transverse network of tunnels that the termites had built. Back and forth Timmy’s tongue went in and out between the termite mound and his mouth. “That was delicious” thought Timmy to himself once again as his stomach had become almost full. “I think there’s just a little room left for some more” he chuckled to himself as he started searching again for a different termite mound. He wandered into an open field where he could see and smell a number of termite mounds. He started moving quicker now, lifting his front legs up above the ground and just running on his back legs. As he slowed down, coming towards the nearest termite mound, heard a rustling in the long grass around him. “What’s that” he thought to himself looking around cautiously.


Before he could do anymore, three lions surrounded him. The three adult female lionesses encroached closer and closer, while Timmy got more and more afraid. He instinctively curled his body tightly around himself as to rely on his armer plated scales to protect him. “Well, well, well, what do we have here” announced one of the lionesses, looking inquisitively at the armor-plated ball which lay in front of them. “I think it’s called a Pangathin” said the other lioness tapping it gently with its impressive paw. “I know what it’s called Kabili” retorted the original lioness. “Please don’t eat me, please don’t eat me” whispered Timmy under his breath while the lionesses continued bickering amongst themselves. There’s not a lot of meat on these things anyway, it’s all just scales and bones” said the third lioness to her sisters while also playfully tapping Timmy as well. “Come, let’s go and find something more substantial to bring home, like a zebra, the cubs are getting hungry” ended the lioness and the three lions slipped away into the night. Timmy stayed curled up in a ball a while longer after the lions had left. He wasn’t hungry anymore and he scampered out of the open field and into the nearest bushes.



Three young lions stumble onto Timmy while searching for their own food


A period of time went by and he stayed buried in the bushes, but after a while he started to get hungry again. “Well, I’m not going back into that field again, I don’t care how many termite humps there are” he said wearily. He scampered off in the opposite direction. He zig zagged between the trees and sniffed under boulders, scratching in the dirt every once and a while. His nose had just picked up a scent, when all of a sudden, he heard another noise. “Not those pesky lions again I hope, I can’t catch a break tonight” thought Timmy. There was a flash of light and two strange looking animals walking erect with a sun beam in the one animals’ hand. “Over there, over there said the one man pointing towards Timmy. The strange creatures spoke an even stranger language which Timmy couldn’t understand. He became scared once more and curled up into his defensive ball again. The man with the torch took a rucksack off his back and unzipped it, to open it up, the other man picked Timmy up with both hands and placed the pangolin into the plastic bag. “What’s happening” thought Timmy. The bag was zipped up again and Timmy felt very cramped and uncomfortable, particularly as the men walked through the bush. The bag was dark and empty, Timmy didn’t know what to do or how to escape, he was completely trapped.



Timmy in his characteristic defensive position when two men catch him out of the wild


After, what felt like hours, the bag was unzipped again. Timmy was still in his tight defensive ball. The pangolin was placed in a glass tank which was situated in the corner of the room. Timmy stayed curled up until everything went quiet. He slowly uncurled himself and had a look around. He kept walking around but suddenly bonked his nose on an invisible barrier. Timmy clawed on the glass. “This see-through barrier is hard and slippery” Timmy thought. Timmy’s stomach started to rumble. “Gosh, I could do with a couple of termites roundabout now” he said to himself hungrily. Two and half days had past, Timmy was starving and had started to lose weight, he also started to feel a bit ill.


The two men came in and out of the room from time to time, sometimes they stayed in the room for long hours either playing cards, counting money or speaking their strange language into a device held up to their ears. “I’m so tired and hungry” Timmy told himself. “I wish these two-legged creatures would at least give me some sort of food” Timmy thought. However, none never came. On the fourth day the two men came in with their rucksack again. Timmy was sleeping at the time, trying to conserve energy. One of the men place another animal into the tank with Timmy, a while later Timmy awoke to find another pangolin in the tank with its nose in his face. ‘Oops sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you” said the second pangolin earnestly. Timmy was groggy and still didn’t feel too well “What’s your name? Timmy asked slowly. My name is Anthony, what’s your name? Anthony asked. “I’m Timmy he replied and gave a short smile before curling up again to sleep.



Hours later, Timmy woke to see a large wooden crate in front of them. One of the men came towards the tank and picked Anthony up. Timmy watched as the man placed the pangolin into the box while he was still half curled up. The man returned and picked Timmy up and placed him in the same box. There were clumps of lucerne on the bottom of the box. The same man then placed a wooden lid on top of the box which put the two pangolins into darkness except for a few cracks in the in the frame of the box. “What’s happening” asked Anthony fearfully. Timmy now realized that Anthony was still quite a young pangolin, “I don’t know” Timmy replied. “How long were you in that see through barrier for?” Anthony asked. “I’m not sure, maybe two weeks” replied Timmy thoughtfully. “How old are you” asked Timmy, trying to keep the young pangolins mind off the current situation. “I’m just over two years old, I left my mother a couple of months ago” replied Anthony. After a short pause he continued. “I miss her though; I wish she was here” he added trying to look out one of the cracks in the box. At that point the box was hoisted into the air and carried down a flight of stairs and then put into a vehicle. Some time passed and then the lid of the box was opened again. A separate compartment was placed above the pangolins and the men placed electronic items in this separate compartment. The lid was shut again and the pangolins felt the similar movement of the car to previously when they had been captured out of the bush.


After half an hour of driving the pangolins suddenly felt that the car wasn’t moving anymore and the two men were arguing with each other in their strange language that neither Anthony could recognise. Then there was lots of shouting and commotion from outside the vehicle, abruptly the boot of the car was opened. The lid of the box was opened and then the separate compartment taken away. A different man in a drab blue uniform stood above the pangolins. He pocked both of the animals gently and both pangolins winced slightly. “We’ve got two live pangolins here” announced the man and signaled for a person to come over. A young woman came over and looked at the pangolins for herself and then called her assistant over to help her with moving the pangolins. “Not again” thought Timmy. As he was picked up out of the box, he saw the two men who had caught him, lying on the floor with metal bracelets around their writs so they couldn’t move. Both Pangolins were taken to a rehabilitation center where they were feed and nursed back to good health. They were later released back into the wild.



Timmy and Anthony curled up together after being put into different crate by the rehabilitators


ALTERNATIVE ENDING

The car had been driving for a while now and the two men had only spoken occasionally throughout the trip. The car then came to a halt. Both Timmy nor Anthony moved. It was late afternoon and one of the men carried the box into a large building. The box was then placed onto a conveyor belt and put onto an airplane destined for Hong Kong. The box had been placed in the under carriage where all the other export goods were stored. Anthony woke up from a long sleep and realized he was still in a box. “Its so cold in here” he thought. He moved over to where Timmy was sleeping and nudged him with his nose. There was no response. Anthony then curled up next to Timmy to find some warm. An hour later Timmy woke up with Anthony close to his side. Anthony was still awake and noticed that Timmy was stirring. “I’m so cold and hungry” said Anthony frightenedly. “I know Anthony, I am too” Timmy replied weakly “lets stay strong and remain positive, we’ll get out of this problem or later and be feasting on termites soon” Timmy said as confidently as he could muster. Timmy then curled into his defensive ball again and went to sleep. Timmy never woke up again. Due to thirst, starvation and fear the pangolin drifted off quietly.


The next day the box went through customs and cleared for transport into the city. The pangolins were then sent to a small restaurant called Lee Choe’s authentic dining. An old Chinese man open the door and looked both ways up and down the street. He then picked up the box and took it to the back kitchen. A younger Chinese man was in the corner of the kitchen slicing a fillet of salmon, he looked over his shoulder when he heard his father push through the swinging doors. “Package from Africa” said Choe. “Pangolin” answered the son. Choe nodded in response. Choe’s son stopped slicing the fish and the two men opened to box and took out the useless electronic items and the shelf that hid the pangolins away. There in the corner of the box lay two pangolins curled up together. The son then took both pangolins by the tail. One uncurled and hung limply in the air and the smaller one wriggled around a bit. “One live, one dead” said the son looking for guidance from his father. Choe cursed, thought for a moment and then an idea popped into his head.


Anthony was petrified hanging upside down in the man’s hand, he tried wiggling around but the man’s grip only got tighter. “Let me go, let me go” squealed Anthony. “Timmy, wake up” he added. Anthony noticed that these were two different men now and spoken an equally strange language to the previous two men.



Choe’s son put the alive pangolin back in the box and put the lid back on, he then took the dead pangolin on the floor and got a different knife. The son got down onto the floor and started scraping the scales from the pangolins body and placing them in a jar. Once all the scales had been removed, he dumped the body into the trash. Later that that evening a Chinese couple entered the restaurant and sat down in the corner of the dimly lit room. They flipped to the back of the menu which had the heading Bush Menu. After bringing the couple drinks, the waiter requested what they would be eating that night. “The lady and I would like the pangolin, are there any available?” the man replied. “Yes sir, certainly, one arrived this morning, nice and fresh, I will bring it to you now” said the waiter walking back into the kitchen. The waiter then brought the pangolin which was now in a small cage in one hand while holding a knife in the other. The waiter then showed the couple the pangolin which had its long nose pressed through the bars. The man sitting at the table nodded in satisfaction. The waiter then opened the cage, took the pangolin out and slit its throat in front of the couple. The lady opposite the man produced a grimacing face expression while her partner showed no emotion at all. The pangolins blood spilled over the waiters’ hands while he took it back to the kitchen for the chef to make the pangolin dish.


Notes


While there are cases occur where the first ending of the story is true, over 90% of pangolins which are caught in the wild will die in the way which is described in the alternative ending.


Timmy’s scales were taken to the pharmacy down the road where they were future ground down into a powder. Traditional Chinese medicine experts believe it has helping powers for a number of human illnesses. There is no peer reviewed scientific evidence that proves this as the pangolin scales are made out of Keratin and protein, the same substance that rhino horn and human fingernails are made of.



Scales taken off Timmy's body


All eight species of pangolin in the world are critically endangered or vulnerable. The populations of each species are unknown and difficult to track due to their reclusive nature.


Pangolins are considered a delicacy in the East and by eating them you are considered to be of a higher status.


FYI: The pictures used in this blog are all from separate incidents and different pangolin individuals. Although this is a fictional story of two pangolins, the events expressed by the author are real.

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