Defending the Tree Pangolin

On today’s Close Look post, we’ve been focusing on the Tree Pangolin. Here curator Lee Ismail explains why it has become an unfairly maligned animal and why we should be focusing on the global wildlife trade.

The Tree Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) is one of eight species of pangolin found around the world. Four species are found in Africa (including this one) and four in Asia.

Photo of tree pangolin specimen mounted on a branchThese gentle, appealing little animals have in recent years come to public attention for two very unfortunate reasons. First, as many conservationists and news organisations have reported, they have become one of the most illegally poached and trafficked animals on the planet. This is due to the false belief that they have medicinal properties for humans  — even though it is scientifically proven they do not.

Second, pangolins are also in the news due to a suggested link between bats and humans for the transmission of Covid-19. Again this has been disproved, although pangolins, like bats and other wild animals can carry similar coronaviruses. This demonstrates why the wildlife trade must be stopped, and why animals that cannot be domesticated should be left in the wild and out of human consumption. Pangolins are shy and nocturnal wild animals, and humans should never come close enough to pangolins for a virus to ever be transmitted to us.

It’s also worth remembering that while a link between pangolins and Covid-19 has yet to be proved, humans have been responsible for passing the disease to other animals, such as the case of this tiger in a New York zoo. Rather than blaming one animal or another for the spread of the disease, we should really focus on the harmful affects of the global wildlife trade.

Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences

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