These days, we humans are the evil spirits when it comes to the pangolin. Ignorance is the biggest enemy of all wildlife, and the pangolin is one of its saddest victims because its population is being decimated for absolutely no good reason. Their blood, body parts, and even fetuses are prized in Africa for muti (traditional medicine), Vietnam, and China because of baseless, silly beliefs in their so-called curative “powers.”
While the Chinese consider the fetuses and the flesh of adults a culinary delicacy, the pangolin’s scales are used for making traditional Chinese medicine or TCM, despite a complete and utter lack of evidence of any kind of medicinal value. It is ignorantly believed that TCM containing pangolin parts or blood “…can reduce swelling, improve liver function, facilitate weight loss, stimulate blood circulation, and enhance lactation in breast-feeding women,” according to pangolins.org. Pangolin parts, scales, and blood are also believed to reduce inflammation and even be a cure for cancer!
Here’s why this is silly in a dangerous way. For one thing, pangolin scales are made of keratin—the same thing comprising human nails and hair. No scientific study has ever shown that any part of the pangolin can provide cures for any human affliction whatsoever, or be of any use in stimulating the production of breastmilk.
Why should they be protected? Because of its potentially strong environmental impact. In Scientific American is this quote from a 2009 report by IUCN Species Survival Commission chairperson Simon Stuart: “Pangolins save us millions of dollars a year in pest destruction,” “These shy creatures provide a vital service and we cannot afford to overlook their ecological role as natural controllers of termites and ants.
”What stake does the Philippines have in protecting the pangolin? According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, one of the two pangolin species that are currently “Status: Endangered” is the Philippine Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica).
This story appeared in Animal Scene’s October 2017 issue.