Saturday, 17 November 2007

Pangolin - Eater of Ants

To most Borneans the meat of wild animals used to be a natural and  a considerable part of daily fare, but today with the near-decimation of our jungles, bushmeat (a term that seems to have gained popularity nowadays) is harder to come by and is still a very welcome occasional treat. One particularly relished meat was that of the pangolin (sometimes called the scaly anteater) which in the old days were quite common in jungles as well as in rubber and cocoa plantations. (This photo of a mother with young riding piggy-back on her tail was taken in a cocoa plantation in Tawau around 1980)
In those days hunters do not go out to hunt pangolins in particular, usually their quarry were larger animals like the sambar deer (payau), muntjak (kijang) or wild pigs. Pangolins were sort of  like “side-catch” together with civets (musang), pelandoks and the equally tasty porcupines. People also take the occasional pangolin that they accidentally met. At this rate of “harvesting” there was little danger of wiping out any species.
However when people are overcome by greed, species like the pangolin are all in danger and become threatened with extinction. After having over-exploited their own pangolins to the point of virtual extinction in their regions, the Chinese are buying these animals from other countries where different species are found. All too often we are bombarded by the media with news of truckloads of pangolins being seized at national boundaries by wildlife enforcement people – truckloads – hundreds of these poor animals being sent to their slaughter. These reports were only of those cases when the enforcers were lucky, one dreads to think of those that got away, how many thousands were and are still being taken?
Borneo is not spared this illegal activity, and although we hear less about it it doesn’t mean that there is less threat here. Here’s a recent Sabah case – see the attached newspaper clipping. (Click it to see a larger image and read the newspaper report.)
Personally, not so long ago I have heard of illegal wildlife procurers going around oil palm plantations in the East Coast of Sabah offering up to RM60 per kilo of live pangolin to workers. When I got wind of this I immediately told my staff and workers that anyone caught dealing with these criminals risk immediate dismissal.
I have no objection to people catching (non-protected) wild animals in plantations and farms for their own dinner, but doing so for financial profit (supporting illegal trafficking) at the expence of the animal is definitely not acceptable. I admit that I have tasted stewed pangolins in the past and unashamedly totally enjoyed it (I can tell you it tastes like porcupine, which is much nicer than chickens!), but those were the days when it seemed it would take another Ice Age to make these animals extinct!
Here are some facts about the species of pangolin found in our region:
Species name: Manis javanica
Common English name: Sunda Pangolin or Javan, also sometimes Malayan Pangolin
Local names: Tenggiling (Malay), bulukun or mangkotong (Kadazan/Dusun), I think it's called bulukun in Murut also, while in Iban it's Tenggiling. Please correct me if I am wrong. In Chinese it is chuan san jia 穿山甲 which roughly means mountain-digging amour!


Ivy said...

You took the picture of the pangolin?

Borneo Born said...

Yes, the mother and baby pangolins. As far as I remember they were set free by the person who caught them after showing them to me... :)

Teacher Tammy said...

I am writing a story about the bird boy of Sabah. He had a baby pangolin as a pet when he was a little child. Would you permit me to use the photograph of your pangolin in the story if I cite your work and the book is to be donated to schools in Sabah so that no one will make any money on it?

Borneo Born said...

Hi Teacher Tammy,

I'm sorry, I only just saw your comment today. Of course you are welcome to use my pangolin photo, I would be most honoured!

Joe Pan

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