Pressing Issues

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Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) Photo: PALF Project for the Application of Law for Fauna Republic of Congo

Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis)
Photo: PALF Project for the Application of Law for Fauna Republic of Congo

I was sitting in my office today, wondering – as I sometimes do – how to write about pangolins. As I often do.

There was an unaccustomed sound outside, something that broke above the unrelenting rain we’ve had over the past few days. Children’s voices, a lot of them. I stood to look out and find dozens of little kids walking past our house, which lies on a quiet cul-de-sac.

It turns out they had been invited by my neighbor to experience the fine art of apple pressing first hand. The tiny village school only has 90 children from kindergarten through fifth grade – this must have been almost a third of the school.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

They stood and watched as my neighbor – whose family has been pressing apple juice from their orchards for generations – loaded a small press with the season’s apples, then pressed the caramel-colored juice out into a bucket.

The sweetness of the best apple juice I personally have ever tasted should remain in their memories, even if the details of apple pressing might not.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

The apple pressing visit is an exercise in teaching the next generation that apple juice doesn’t originate in plastic jugs any more than meat originates in styrofoam packaging.

Even more, it’s about raising awareness of old skills and habits that are going extinct.

Phot: PK Read

Phot: PK Read

What we take in through our own experience, through pleasure, through a moment outside life’s regular classroom, can leave such a lasting mark. So much of what we learn as small children is not directly remembered in detail, but in a sense of what is good, and what is not.

And so to the pangolin.

There’s a new game out, designed by the maker of Angry Birds, that’s meant to raise awareness of the endangered pangolin.

A pangolin introduces itself to, what else, angry birds. Image: Rovio Entertainment

A pangolin introduces itself to, what else, angry birds.
Image: Rovio Entertainment

The pangolin, otherwise known as the scaly anteater, has the dubious distinction of being the most illegally traded mammal on the planet. Its numbers are dwindling faster than conservationists can count, its habits and place in the environment are disappearing faster than researchers can follow.

An excellent study in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine examined the reasons animals are used for medicinal purposes, ranging from a belief in traditional practices to the unavailability and expense of modern medicine (as well as a more generalized distrust of Western medicine).

Then there’s the profit end of the stick, the money to be made by selling the precious commodities of ever scarcer animal parts.

Working at cross-purposes to conservationist interests, ‘zootherapeutic’ practices show no sign of diminishing even as the animals upon which they rely go extinct.

Pangolin Illustration: Claire Scully via Aeon (with an interesting discussion of pangolins and physics)

Pangolin
Illustration: Claire Scully via Aeon (with an interesting discussion of pangolins and physics)

Many efforts to stop the use of pangolin flesh and scales for traditional medicines are underway; few of them are quite as playful as Roll with the Pangolin, launched today by the Tikki Hywood Trust in Zimbabwe in collaboration with United for Wildlife and Rovio Entertainment, makers of Angry Birds.

The game is meant to raise awareness of the pangolin and other endangered animals as well as the dangers of the illegal animal trade, as United for Wildlife head Prince William states, an amazing animal goes extinct that many haven’t even heard of yet.

Sweet juice and silly games, simple ways to get a message across, something that might just change the attitudes of a lifetime.

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