Nap time came early for my kid today. This isn’t a typical Wednesday, but nap time typically comes early on Wednesdays, because on typical Wednesdays he has school on the Upper West Side in the afternoons. So on typical Wednesdays, we go to the Museum of Natural History in the morning, where he tires himself out sprinting big circles around the diorama rooms full of gorgeous and exotic animals that Teddy Roosevelt and his friends shot in the name of science. I’m desperately awaiting a typical Wednesday.
From the Wikipedia: Pangolins.
I’ve written before about the internet’s weird, dumb tendency to shame people for knowledge they want but don’t yet have, but I will admit without hesitation that I never in my life heard of a pangolin before they became newsworthy as a potential disease vector for COVID-19. From all the time at the museum, I know about gemsboks and gaurs and kudus and sables, but as far as I know there is no pangolin there. This creature’s existence entirely dodged my awareness until roughly two weeks ago.
As it turns out, the study that initially connected pangolins to the coronavirus was a bit of a stretch — I don’t really understand the science detailed on the Wikipedia page, but you’re welcome to check it out and report back. Either way, it’s clearly not the pangolins’ fault, and it turns out pangolins are fascinating.
Did you know that pangolins are the most trafficked animal in the world? I would’ve guessed it was monkeys or something. There are eight extant species of pangolin, and together they comprise some 20% of the world’s illegal wildlife trade. Types of pangolin live in Sub-Saharan Africa, on the Indian subcontinent, and in China and Southeast Asia.
They’re hunted for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some areas, and especially for their most unusual characteristic: Protective scales made of keratin that cover their entire body. The Wikipedia says they’re the only known mammal with this feature, and that the scales are coveted in part for their value in Chinese traditional medicine.
The scales are also undeniably dope. The name pangolin derives from a Malay word that means “one who rolls up,” because pangolins can basically turn themselves into spiky rocks by going fetal when threatened. Check out this pangolin in its defensive position:
Here’s a different type of pangolin, confusing the heck out of some hungry lions:
“Oh, where’d I go, sucker lion?” – That pangolin there.
Pangolins eat ants and termites with a sticky tongue that can extend up to 16 inches. Three of the eight species of pangolin are critically endangered and three more are considered vulnerable, but they tend to struggle in captivity, flummoxing conservation efforts.
The pangolin’s champions include David Attenborough, who rescued one from hunters in Bali in 1951, and Jackie Chan, who put out a PSA in 2017 to support a ban on international pangolin trade. In 2017, a YouTube channel called Animalogic declared it “The cutest animal you’ve never heard of.” They don’t really seem cute in photos, but once you see them walk, it makes sense:
In conclusion, don’t blame this cool animal for the ‘rona. Pangolins aren’t trying to get people sick, they just want to eat ants and roll themselves up into balls and have sex once a year.