A very short story about the plight of the pangolin, seen through the eyes of two-year-old pangolin Lucky. ‘Up to 200,000 are estimated to be taken from the wild every year across Africa and Asia, and the pangolin is critically endangered. Their meat is considered a delicacy by some in China and Vietnam, while their scales and fetuses are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a range of ailments from arthritis to cancer. Pangolins are also used throughout Africa in traditional medicine’. WildAid.
I had my birthday yesterday and we ate ants. Mummy said I was two years old. She called me Lucky when I was born, I’m not sure why yet. Mummy knows a lot about pangolins. She said we always try to be helpful, and that’s important, isn’t it? And we mostly help humans, because they’re in a lot of trouble.
“How many people are there?” I asked, when we were looking for ants this morning.
Ants are hard to come by in the Nigerian forests these days. Partly because there are a lot less forests. But at least there are even less lions, so that’s an upside. Above all, there’s more people all the time.
Mummy licked an ant off her chin, although we don’t actually have chins. “About eight billion, I think. That’s eight thousand million, Lucky. There’s a lot. And there’s another eighty million each year. That’s a lot too.”
“Wow. And how many of us are there?”
Mummy frowned. Which is hard for a pangolin to do, not having any eyebrows. “No one knows, but it’s not a lot.”
“A million?” I had heard that was a big number. It felt big, anyway.
She sighed. “Maybe half that much. We’re very particular about what we eat and where we live, and we’re not very good at running away from people. We roll into a ball. Maybe It’s time for some new tricks.”
That sounded great. “Like changing colour or running really fast. Or being small, like ants.”
When she looked at me, she seemed sad. Although it’s hard to tell with pangolins. “Something like that, Lucky.”
I ate some more ants. That’s all we eat, but I always enjoy them. “Where’s Daddy?”
She sighed again. “So many questions. He’s had to go and help the Chinese.”
“They think we can help them get better when they’ve got aches and pains. That’s where most of our people have gone, which is why we’re all that’s left.”
“So will he come back, when he’s helped them?”
Mummy wiped her eye, although we pangolins don’t cry. “He won’t come back, Lucky. And he can’t help them, because we don’t make people better at all. We’re just pangolins. All we do is eat ants.”
I thought that was a shame. Surely there was something helpful we could do. “A lot of people are sick at the moment, aren’t they? Perhaps we can help make them better?”
She stopped eating and seemed thoughtful before she said, “It’s true that we’ve been linked to the transmission of Covid-19 to humans, and we do have an unusual form of immunity. But we don’t do well when we’re away from home, Lucky. Or when we’re sick. We can’t make babies when we’re with people, because we’re not happy. And because so many of us help people in China and Vietnam, there’s not enough left to do anything else. But I expect some of us will end up in laboratories being helpful.”
I followed her across the new road, watching out for cars, although I don’t really know what they are yet. I’ve seen their lights in the darkness and heard the roar they make, and the smell. There was a field on the other side of the road, with people working. But beyond the field there was a bit more forest. And in the forest there were a few ants. We found a ditch, and no one saw us until we were under the trees. There was time for one more question.
“What’ll happen, eventually? I mean, if we’re so helpful then will people help us in return, by making forests bigger and taking away the roads, and leaving us alone?”
Mummy didn’t answer the last question. I never found her again.