By Steffi Joseph
In an interesting rescue operation, we got a call from a person who identified a strange scaly ball shaped animal spotted near the Agra Delhi Road, not far from the Taj Mahal. The caller reported that some people were trying to capture this wild animal. Our rescue team reached the location to find a ‘pangolin,’ also known as a scaly ant eater.
The Indian or thick tailed pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) is an endangered species and has large keratin scales covering its body. The pangolin curls up into a ball when threatened using its scales as armor for its face and abdomen. The natural diet of ant eaters, as the name suggests, is primarily ants and termites. Pangolins lack teeth and hence the ability to chew. They normally tear open ant hills and termite mounds with their strong front claws and use their long sticky tongue to suck out their prey. The Indian Pangolin usually has one offspring after a gestation period of 65-70 days.
There are eight species of pangolins found in the world. Although pangolins forage mostly on the ground, arboreal ants are also preyed upon. They tear apart and dig into mounds by using their three centre claws on their forefeet, while using its hind feet to throw loose soil backwards. When feeding, the pangolin’s rostral part of the tongue is quickly inserted and withdrawn to capture prey. This is also used for drinking.
Despite the pangolin being highly protected under Indian law (Wildlife Protection Act 1972), it is illegally hunted and traded for its meat, a sout-east Asian delicacy and its scales are used for Asian traditional medicine. Large consignments of dead pangolins and pangolin scales have been seized at national and international borders by enforcement authorities.
One of the major threats to pangolins is habitat destruction and poaching. It is a burrowing animal and spends a large part of its life underground and in burrows. Activities like construction, earth moving machinery, sand mining etc. damages it habitat irreversibly. Most people are not aware of how endangered the species is. There is an urgent need to increase attention on this rare species.
The Deputy Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Shri N.K. Janoo, IFS, said about the pangolin found near Agra, “Finding a rare animal like a pangolin in the area is a sign of excellent biodivierstiy. It’s a rare and severely endangered species. It’s heartening to find the animal in a healthy state. It was very efficient of Wildlife SOS to attend to the call immediately and rescue the animal which was in distress.”
It was a heartening experience for the team to save the rarely found animal. We would particularly like to thank the Forest Department of Uttar Pradesh for their undying support and kind words which only motivates the team more to do their best.