If you spot an ietermagog, you'd better call Pangolert
A new organisation has been launched to protect the pangolin
A new organisation has been launched to protect Africa’s increasingly imperilled pangolins, unusual ant-eating creatures that are protected by a blanket of sharp, armour-plated scales.
Because they live underground or hidden in trees for most of the day, no one really knows how many pangolins remain worldwide – but because of an alarming rise in illegal poaching in recent years all eight species of pangolins have been listed for the highest level of protection from the illegal wildlife trade
In one recent incident, nearly 10,000kg of pangolin meat was seized from a Chinese vessel that ran aground in the Philippines, while a police raid in Indonesia in 2016 uncovered nearly 650 pangolins carcasses stashed in a home-freezer.Last year, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said pangolins had gained the unfortunate distinction of being “the most trafficked mammal on earth”, with more than one million pangolins believed to have been taken from the wild in the last 10 years.
The UN agency also warned that traffickers were turning increasingly to Africa to supply demand for meat and scales as the number of Asian pangolins declined rapidly.
This week, a new non-profit organisation Pangolin.Africa was launched to help conserve the species by mapping their distribution using a dedicated WhatsApp line, and through the what3words global addressing system.This technology has divided the world into a grid system of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique three word address. The “what3words” system works on any kind of cellphone and does not require Internet.
Toby Jermyn, founder of Pangolin.Africa, hopes the new initiative will strengthen the efforts of several individuals and organisations working to safeguard pangolins.
“More scientific data is critical to the successful conservation of the species. We are hugely excited about the potential of Pangolert, the first campaign of the organisation, which harnesses the effectiveness of the most popular messaging system in Africa as a platform for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts to get easily and effortlessly involved by gathering accurate data on pangolin populations and distribution.” People who see pangolins anywhere in Africa are being urged to take photographs and send them to the new Pangolert number (+27-72-726-4654) via WhattsApp.Professor Ray Jansen, chairperson of the African Pangolin Working Group, has welcomed the new initiative and noted that information gathered would be stored securely for the sole use of pangolin researchers.
Jansen said while the South African population of pangolins was considered to be “reasonably stable”, it could crash rapidly because of growing demand from several Asian nations.
There are eight species of pangolins worldwide, four in Asia and four in Africa.
They are the only mammals whose bodies are covered in scales rather than fur. Scales are composed of keratin (the same material that makes up human fingernails).
Because the belly, underside of the head and inside of the limbs are not covered with scales, they curl up into a tight ball when threatened.The Afrikaans name for the pangolin is “ietermagog”, a reference to the animal’s iron-hard scales.
Pangolins only eat ants and termites, with a single pangolin consuming millions, if not billions, of ants, termites and their larvae each year.
To get at the insects they have very long tongues – as long as their head and body combined. The thin tongue is covered in sticky saliva and retracts into a special sheath which extends along the abdominal wall to the pelvic region.
Mothers give birth to one baby a year which are left behind in burrows or hollow trees and logs for the first few weeks.
After a month or so the pup hitches a ride on the base of the mother’s tail, hooking its claws under the scales, and later gets around by riding on the mother’s back.
• Visit Pangolin.Africa for more information and to join #TeamPangolin