The pangolin and whale dilemma: Two animals that need all the love they can get

2019-02-16 10:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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One is an adorable alien-like mammal with scales, the other the biggest animal on the planet - and both need a little help from their friends.

The 16th of February is World Pangolin Day and World Whale Day - two animals that need all the love they can get because humans are trash.

READ: SA eco-warriors return after 50-day all-women conservation adventure

The cute little pangolin

The pangolin is one of the most trafficked animals in the world, hunted and killed for its flesh and scales used in traditional medicine, especially in China and Vietnam. In these countries it's considered a delicacy to gorge on their flesh, reserved for the elite and rich.

“World Pangolin Day aims to raise to awareness about these rare and unique mammals and the plight of these endangered wildlife, especially given that Africa is home to four of the eight Pangolin species worldwide,” says SANParks Head of Corporate Communications, Janine Raftopoulos.

The four species found in Africa include the Black-bellied pangolin, White-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin and the Temminck's ground pangolin. The latter is found in several national parks in South Africa and is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Over 1 million pangolins have been poached in the last decade and according to traffic.org a pangolin is poached from the wild every five minutes.

SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: Malaysian customs seize 8.8 tons of pangolin scales worth R311m 

The majestic whale

From this small animal we turn our attention also to the biggest animal in the world - the majestic whale that should rule our oceans, but humans continue to encroach their filthy habits onto its natural habitat.

Out of 13 great whale species, more than half are classified as endangered or vulnerable despite efforts by some to protect them.

Raftopoulos said SANParks is mandated to protect all the endangered species.

“Whales are an important marine ecosystem engineer, and play an important role in the overall health, structure and functioning of marine ecosystems. Several species visit South Africa’s coastline during summer to feed and calf, and therefore we need to ensure that these important areas are safe places that are well managed, particularly in our Marine Protected Areas (MPA) such as Table Mountain and Tsitsikamma.”

And oceans aren't the easiest places to protect. They cover our whole planet and can be hard to monitor and control. Plastic pollution, increased shipping which means increased noise and strikes on whales, climate change (sea level rise, ocean acidification, and changes in water temperature) and seismic surveys are just some of the challenges encountered in the protection of whales globally. 

The best way to make this work is by declaring vast tracts of oceanic areas as MPAs, and SA has already taken this a few steps further with the approval of 20 new MPAs in the country, which is especially great for whales.

WATCH: Spectacularly rare trio of whales breaching at the same time + SA's best spots to have a whale of a time 

What can we do to help?

Raftopoulos concludes by urging the public to join the world to continue to raise awareness about the World Pangolin Day and World Whale Day in South Africa.

“As humans we must understand that we are all connected to the bigger food web of our planet, and removing these important creatures from our food web will ultimately impact us.”

You can make a difference by protecting the environments in which these animals live, by not purchasing illegal animal products, recycling your plastic and reporting any illegal activity such as poaching.

READ: SA eco-warriors return after 50-day all-women conservation adventure

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