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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Consider the Pangolin

Artist's Conception of a Pangolin.
It was easy to draw
until I started working on the dang scales.
A pangolin, in case you didn't know, is a long scaly mammal that looks something like an artichoke.  It's covered from snout to tip of tail in lumpy scales made of keratin, which is the same material alligator scales are made of, but before you get all oogy, it's also what toenails are made of, so it's not really that big a deal.  If you think an armadillo is peculiar-looking, it's got nothing on a pangolin.  If you want to get a look at a living pangolin, you need to act quickly, because they may be extinct in a few years.

The pangolin's name comes from a Malay word meaning something like, "thing that rolls up."  This is pretty apt, because when it's under threat, it can roll itself into a little armored ball.  This strategy has served it well for millions of years - a lion or a hyena or whatever would see a pangolin rolled in a ball and say, "Darn, an armored ball.  Now I'll have to go elsewhere."  But a human sees it, and says, "Cool, an armored ball.  I wonder if it's good to eat.  It probably cures impotence."

That's the way it is with humans.  We see something strange-looking and figure right away it must've been put on earth to help us get erections.  Other animals do not think this way.

This sucks for pangolins.

Pangolins are mostly nocturnal and eat insects.  They are shy and inoffensive.  They only meet in order to mate, and they only mate about once a year.  They are some of nature's introverts, which you would pretty much guess by the fact they roll up into armored balls.  It's digging claws on its front feet make it hard to walk, so it keeps its front feet curled up as it walks.  If you wonder why you never see a pangolin running, that would explain it.

The pangolin is a protected species, but that does about as much good as rolling up into a little ball.  Restaurants in Gabon proudly put pangolin right on the menu and it is surprising popular.  The owner of one restaurant says, It's expensive, but it's one of the best meats," said Didine, the owner. "We cook it in a broth and you have to let it simmer for a long time otherwise it's too tough."  Note to owner: anything so tough you have to simmer for a long time in a broth is not a good meat.  If it tastes good afterward, it's because broth tastes good.  Good meat - say, a filet mignon - does not need to be simmered in broth.  Shoe leather needs to be simmered in broth.

But you can't tell that to the Gabonese.  Just like you can't tell the Chinese that pangolin scales have no aphrodisiacal qualities.  If you want an erection, go get you some Cialis, if pangolin scales were an aphrodisiac, you'd expect there to be a lot more pangolins.  But some people just won't listen.  In Bejing there's a high demand for pangolin scales.  The rest of the meat they throw away.

You'd think if pangolin was such a great aphrodisiac and it was one of the "best meats," someone would just raise pangolins on a farm, the way we do pork chops.  But you know how it is.  Some people won't settle for anything less than free-range, wild-caught pangolin.

It is a sad world for pangolins.  They only want to be left alone to eat insects with their long sticky tongues, mate once a year, and sleep all day rolled up into little balls.  It is bad enough going extinct because of your own stupidity, without going extinct because of someone else's.

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