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The Sleepless Sentinel

Nobody Bothers !
Vanishing Indian Pangolin from its Bengal habitats!

Samik Gupta, NINB, Purulia:This has been noticed by the 'Nature Indian' that population of Indian Pangolins, Maniscrassicaudata is seriously dwindling from its former range of southern West Bengal, especially from Purulia and Bankura districts. The Wildlife Wing of State Forest Department has been informed by 'Nature Indian' and a landscape level survey been proposed on 27th January this year. Unfortunately, no initiative is being observed from the government's end while the endangered species is vanishing as quickly and radically as many species have gone off before them!

The 'Nature Indian' worked on Indian Pangolin in some 12 years back when it was abundant through-out the Ajoydha Hills of Purulia district. On an initial investigation at early this year (2015) appears a disastrous situation in presence of Pangolins. The villages around Ajoydha Hills, namely Lalpur, Jahurhatu, Baruakocha, Narahara dam, Bagbinda, Arjundi, Mahakudav,Chatunghatu, Gopalpur, Gatilaba, Patmade, Tarhat, Pokhria, Nawagar,Currabira, Baradi, Murguma, Gajraidi, Upargugui, Uparjari, Gayalikacha, Puranaburudih, Bhuiyandih, Sitarampur, Shilingda, Chhatrajarva, ParbadKashitanov, Garurjhama, Kamarjara, Garga, Bersa,Siringi, Ulidhi,Parpi, Gobaria, Kuchrirakha, Puniashasham, Chhatni, Niharika, Barria, Kudna, Sukridobha,Ekra, Srinampur, Matha, Tikarkarr, Hatinada, Ranga, Teliabhasa, Bhunighra, Kusumtikri, Bhitpani, Alkusi, Kurupahar, Saramchaki, Dabuijabra, Susnidi,Dundigri, Pitigiri, Mamudi, Panrri, Bangusur, Olgocva, Khamar, Jaharatu, Lakshudi, Burudi, Pagrodi and Bukadih.

Indian Pangolin is called as'Bajrakit' in Sanskrit, 'Banrui' in Bengal, 'SalluSamp' inHindi and'Shalak'in Nepalese. The species have been reported to occur in the Indian sub-continent from eastern Pakistan, through much of India south of the Himalayas, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. They may occur also in Myanmar and extreme western China. The species found in a variety of habitats through plains and lower slopes south of the Himalayas, tropical rainforests (where most ants eat the fruits and flowers available in the trees), subtropical thorn forests, plains and the lower slopes of mountains including primary and secondary forests, cultivated lands; pangolins prefer rock crevices and burrows, which they make in sheltered boulders.

It lives mainly in burrows and is known to climb trees. Their burrows range in depth and depend on soil type. Soft soil can have burrows 6 meters deep, while rocky hard soil have a more shallow depth of 2 meters. They usually close the entrance of their burrow with loose soil to hide it from predators. They are basically a nocturnal feeder, spending most of the day sleeping in their burrows or among rocks. It can also curl itself into a ball, exposing only its scales, as self-defence against predators such as the Tiger. Under stress, it produces a loud hissing sound. Maniscrassicaudata also have anal glands capable of emitting a foul smelling, yellow fluid for defense against its predators. It is here where the pangolin makes best use of its prehensile tail and sharp claws to live in an arboreal setting. They climb with their forelegs and use their prehensile tail and limbs for a better purchase. They do not have good hearing or eyesight, instead they rely on their sense of smell to locate the nests of ants and termites. However, since most M. crassicaudata feed and live on the ground, they are considered terrestrial. Maniscrassicaudata live alone most of the time, with the exception of the mating season. During the breeding season both pangolins are found in the same burrow.

Maniscrassicaudata has a myrmecophagous diet. It is mainly an insectivore and feeds on ants and termites, as well as their eggs, digging them out of their mounds using its three main claws that are as long as its forelimbs although one Indian pangolin's stomach was reportedly filled with beetle wing sheaths, cockroaches, and skins of worms. Once they locate and expose the nests their tongues allow them to infiltrate the nest sites with ease. They rapidly "lick" their tongue along the nests as if they were drinking water to catch their prey. Since Maniscrassicaudata have no teeth all of the process of "chewing" is done in the stomach. They have a two chambered stomach. One is used for storage, the other which is 1/5 the total size of the stomach is rough and lined with thick muscular tissue. This is the part of the stomach that "chews" and grinds the food before it goes to the intestines.They prefer several species of prey item, for instance, they might pass up ants and termites under logs in favor of termites in mounds.It is reported that they also feed on the soft shelled land molluscs found in gardens and cultivated lands. It is not known how they feed on molluscs - they possibly break the shells with their strong nails as evident in the crumbled shells in their hide outs.

Little is known about the reproduction patterns of Maniscrassicaudata. Births have been recorded in January, March, July, and November. The gestation period is between 65-70 days. Females give birth to a single young, and ocassionally two can be produced. Newborns can weigh from 200-500 grams. Their scales are soft, eyes are functional, and can immediately crawl on its own. At about 1 month of age the young are carried on the dorsal base of the mother's tail when foraging, and at about 3 months of age the young are weaned. The longevity of Maniscrassicaudata under captive conditions is greater than 13 years. Nothing is known of longevity in the wild.

Little is known about the reproduction patterns of Maniscrassicaudata. Births have been recorded in January, March, July, and November. The gestation period is between 65-70 days. Females give birth to a single young, and ocassionally two can be produced. Newborns can weigh from 200-500 grams. Their scales are soft, eyes are functional, and can immediately crawl on its own. At about 1 month of age the young are carried on the dorsal base of the mother's tail when foraging, and at about 3 months of age the young are weaned. The longevity of Maniscrassicaudata under captive conditions is greater than 13 years. Nothing is known of longevity in the wild.

Physical description : Head and body length of Maniscrassicaudata can range from 45-75cm, and the tail can be 33-45cm. Males are generally larger than females. The head is small and triangular in shape and the body is slender and long. Like other pangolins, it has large, overlapping scales which act like armour. Maniscrassicaudata is covered with about 15-18 rows of such tough scales along the dorsal side of its head and body, and about 14-16 rows of scales on its tail. These scales are yellow-brown or yellow-gray in color and made of fused hair. These scales, the main part in trade, are not found on the snout, chin, sides of face, throat, belly and inner surface of limbs. The scales make up 1/4 to 1/3 of it's body mass. These are two sided symmetrical elevations of the epidermis, which are constantly replaced on wear. The size of Indian Pangolin’s scale may vary from 6.5 cm - 7 cm (height) from the dorsal and tail region of the body, with an average breadth of 8.5 cm and weight of 7-10 gmms. The Indian pangolin may have about 160-200 scales all over its body, of which 40-46% is present on the tail. Coarse, bristly hair covers the under-surface of the body. They possess 5 powerful claws on each limb, 3 of which are adapted for digging burrows or locating their prey's nests. They have no teeth. Their tongue, which is 23-25.5cm long, is their main tool for capturing food. It has muscular attachments extending all the way to the pelvis.

Unfortunately, the species is considered to be a curious animal and has been killed for so-called medicinal value! Habitat loss and hunting for meat and scales are the major threats to the species. Traditional hunters such as tribesmen use trained dogs to track and hunt them. Pangolin scales are extracted after killing and skinning the animal. Scales from one adult animal weigh an average of 1kg. Oil is extracted from the fat of the animal (amounting to 250 grams per animal) for medicinal purposes. The brain of the animal is used by local medicine men. Local tribesmen eat also the flesh. The species is already classified as a Schedule I, Part I; Appendix II animal as per Wildlife (Protection) Act-1972.

Nobody knows the fate of this unique species in southern West Bengal, while the reluctant attitude of the Wildlife Wing causes worry to the conservationists. A senior conservationist of West Bengal says "Wildlife officers are less concerned on biodiversity. They are much concerned about the glamour of the species, like Tiger. Thus ill-fated the Pangolins are!"