If you own a home, you know that bugs can be a big problem. While some, like fruit flies and ants, are merely a nuisance, others can be completely destructive. For example, termites are responsible for creating $1 billion to $2 billion of property damage each year.
While we opt to place a call to the exterminator to get rid of creepy crawlies here in the U.S., other countries rely on more natural means. For instance, in the Philippine province called Palawan, residents call in a different kind of expert: pangolins.
You might know the pangolin by its other name — the anteater. But these little guys eat more than just ants. In fact, they are the termite’s number one enemy. There are other predators who eat termites, but only pangolins are credited with controlling the termite population in Palawan.
Termites can be beneficial to a forest ecosystem, as they feed on wood, dead plant material, soil, and dung. In doing so, they can help improve the nutrient content of the earth and aid in plant growth. But unchecked, especially when they start to invade your home, they can wreak havoc.
Pangolins can put away 200,000 ants in a single meal, so you can imagine how effective they are at getting rid of a termite problem. In fact, wildlife experts in the Palawan region have stated that without help from pangolins, the termite population could quickly spiral out of control and spread throughout the province.
Unfortunately, there is a very real chance that pangolins may not be in a position to help anyone. The animals were recently classified as a species threatened with extinction under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora.
This is largely due to the fact that pangolins are one of the most illegally traded species in the world. When pangolins are smuggled out of the Philippines, they are often destined for China, where, dead or alive, they are valued for their supposed medicinal and aphrodisiacal qualities. Hunters both local and from around the world go after their skin, meat, and internal organs.
The upgrade in classification to the CITES list means that those involved in the killing and illegal trade of these defenseless creatures are subject to stricter penalties. By law, illegal pangolin transport may be punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to 100,000 Philippine pesos — about $2,050 USD. Those who are found guilty of illegally trading pangolins may receive up to four years imprisonment and a P300,000 fine. The killing of a pangolin may result in a jail sentence of up to 12 years and a P1 million fine.
The pangolin’s inclusion on the CITES list shows the importance of worldwide species preservation, as well as the contribution they make in controlling insect population. Ultimately, the pangolin’s efforts ensures that trees and other plants survive without interference.
Although those involved in the illegal animal trade are becoming savvier through social media and other means, the people who understand the important role the pangolin plays in our ecosystem hope that these increased efforts will have a positive impact on the species.