Chances are, you have never heard of the pangolin. It has been described as “an artichoke with legs” or “a four-footed, flightless dragon.” This small and scaly mammal, harmless and innocent in nature, curls up into a ball when threatened. (Pangolin is from the Malay word for “something that rolls up.”) Eight different species of pangolin inhabit Asia and Africa.
The pangolin is also the most trafficked animal on Earth.
Of the eight species still in existence, four are classified as “vulnerable,” two are “endangered,” and two are “critically endangered.” According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one pangolin is taken from the wild to be sold or killed every five minutes. Over the past decade, more than 1 million pangolins have been poached.
Why? The pangolin’s meat is considered a delicacy. The pangolin’s scales, made of the same keratin as human hair and nails, are highly sought in Asia for medicinal purposes and in Africa for witchcraft. (There is no scientific evidence that pangolin scales provide any such benefits.) In July, Hong Kong authorities intercepted 7.3 tons of illegal pangolin scales, representing a slaughter of 8,000 to 10,000 animals.
At September’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), more than 180 nations approved proposals to protect all eight species of pangolin. CITES has banned all trade of live pangolin, pangolin meat and scales. Hopefully it is not too late.
Conservationists are trying to help preserve the eight endangered pangolin species by breeding them in captivity. But maintaining pangolins is a significant challenge, in part because little is known about their genetics. As a result, they do not survive or breed well in captivity.
Earlier this year, scientists in Malaysia and the U.S. performed the first large-scale sequencing of the critically endangered Manis javanica Malayan pangolin. They discovered many pangolin-specific genes that are represented in stress-related processes, cell proliferation and external stimulus.
The scientists used an Agilent Bioanalyzer system for isolating and evaluating the integrity of RNA. Their study provides an invaluable resource for the future conservation of pangolins.
For more information go to:
- The most traded wild mammal – the Pangolin – is being eaten to extinction (IUCN)
- Pangolins and the Criteria for Listing in CITES (PDF)
- Pangolins On The Brink (National Geographic)
- Pangolin, The ‘Artichoke With Legs,’ Earns Top Trade Protection (National Public Radio)
- De novo sequencing, assembly and analysis of eight different transcriptomes from the Malayan pangolin
- Agilent Bioanalyzer and TapeStation Solutions