It looks like an armadillo but eats like an anteater. It’s a mammal but is covered on scales. It’s got huge killer claws but oddly enough, it chooses to curl up into a tight ball when under attack.

Meet the pangolin. One would wonder why it doesn’t slash away with gusto as its enemies; it obviously has what it takes to makes its adversaries regret over crossing it. It proves that the pangolin is one of a kind, aside than the fact that it’s the only scale-covered mammal in the world, of course.

There are eight pangolin species, all of which have been recently up-listed as Appendix II animals by the Convention of International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), according to BBC News.

One species in particular, Manis culionensis, is endemic only in the Philippines. Called “balintong” by locals, it used to be a common sight in Palawan until a few decades ago when heavy poaching led to near-extinction.

While conservation groups around the world fight to save the balintong, let us get to know it better before it’s too late.

Born to Be Wild

Breeding (and feeding) the Philippine pangolin in captivity is almost impossible. Thriving best as a recluse in the wild, it prefers to forage for its own food and refuses to eat ants and termites not found in their natural habitat. It also tends to get sick when it feeds on unfamiliar insects.

Making it even more challenging to care for the balintong is its sharp claws and pointed scales. Despite benign nature, it can easily injure and cut anyone who handles it.

The pangolin is also rather hard to restrain or keep in a cage. It can flatten its torso as it tries to escape the metal grills of a cage. If unable to fit through the gaps, it gets trapped, as its scales snag if it attempts to move back into the cage.

Rare Beauty

You know you’re in demand when the whole world wants a piece of you.

Sadly, that’s all too true for the balintong; Because its meat and scales are considered medicinal by other countries; it has been hunted and smuggled until it became an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Now rarely seen in Palawan where it finds its home in forests and places with dense vegetation, the balintong continues to fight for its very existence, which it has done quite well against animals looking for prey.

It ran out of luck, however, when it faced the most vicious ones to date: humans.

Armed and Not Dangerous

Despite its tough, pointy scales and sharp claws, the armed and armored pangolin doesn’t like attacking other animals when threatened. Instead, it curls up into a ball and stays that way until the threat is gone – a rather nonviolent way of defending itself, given the fact that its claws can just as easily slash and maim.

The Philippine pangolin is indeed a living, breathing paradox. Amidst heavy poaching that threatens its existence, we can only hope it stays that way.


This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s August 2017 issue.