The pangolin and other vulnerable species

By Narayani Ganesh

Recent reports indicate that the pangolin, a scaly animal resembling the anteater which has been around for some 40 million years, is losing its numbers to poachers and deforestation, especially in South Africa. It is being hunted and killed for its meat, and its keratin scales that are used in Chinese medicine. The recent video splashed in the media of young boys thrashing a Gangetic dolphin to death in Uttar Pradesh is only one example of the cruelty meted out to species that are basically gentle, harmless and are part of the intricate web of life on earth.

Rampant poaching and disregard for other species is becoming a grave issue, threatening to upset the balance of the earth’s ecosystem and biodiversity, besides rendering humans bereft of humane qualities like compassion and kindness. Maybe this is a good time to evoke traditional belief systems that respect the interconnectedness of life. With regard to the pangolin, indigenous to Africa and Asia. Zimbabweans consider the pangolin a symbol of good luck; so, killing one would bring bad luck. Tanzania’s Sangu cosmology believes that pangolins were sent to earth from the sky by spirits of their ancestors – each pangolin attaches itself to an individual who reports the incident to the local chief. The chosen individual is viewed as a parent of twins, and is accorded due respect. Some African tribes propitiate the pangolin to bestow fertility on couples unable to bear children.

Interestingly, the pangolin is mentioned several times in the Javanese Kakawin Ramayana. A large pangolin skeleton was discovered buried in a specially made brick-lined shaft under the Nandi sculpture placed in front of the Shiva temple in Prambanan. As the staple diet of the nocturnal pangolin is termites and ants, it was thought they were somehow resilient and invincible; they were therefore part of military lore, often depicted in a frame displaying armies or conflict zones. It could also be due to their armour-like scales, a design replicated in battle wear.

The more passive a species is, the more vulnerable it is in terms of its human interface. Which is why the flightless Dodo became extinct; gentle dolphins are beaten to death; the pacific pangolins are poached for their scales and meat as are elephants for their tusks. Has all this got something to do with patriarchy? I’m asking because of a newly released book by Aditi Patil, titled, ‘Patriarchy And The Pangolin: A field guide to Indian men and other species’. A curious title, that makes one wonder what the link is. After a few pages you realise that there is, indeed, a connection between aggression and patriarchy in a closed society.

Basically seeking to present results of environmental research carried out with her colleagues in north India, Patil unravels the underlying cause of many instances of environmental degradation, including decimation of several species that are simply steamrolled in the name of development, leading to habitat loss and insensitive treatment of species. Patil’s advice to wildlife is: Steer clear of humans if you wish to survive.

Spiritual masters say human birth is best suited for achieving salvation. Then why do we indulge in obnoxious acts of destruction? Surely human deliverance cannot be at the cost of other species? Salvation implies saving the soul from sin, but our track record says it is a goal that humans may never attain. ([email protected])



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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3 thoughts on “The pangolin and other vulnerable species

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