Pangolins: Scales of Injustice (2020) – Richard Peirce

Title:Pangolins: Scales of Injustice
Author:Ricard Peirce
Publisher/s:Penguin Random House/Struik Nature
Date Published:2020
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Penguin Random House kindly sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In Pangolins: Scales of Injustice, conservationist and wildlife author Richard Peirce shares his love of animals and nature within the context of what is considered to be “the most trafficked mammal in the world”. In this slim text, Peirce ambitiously and successfully offers the common man a wealth of information regarding the pangolin, and all the politics that come with being and knowing this “most mystical and bewitching creature”.

The book begins with two very different forewords from two very different people, but who both have their love and respect for the pangolin in common. Professor Ray Jansen, founder and chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group, and Izak Kruiper, a Khomani San Bushman elder have had very different experiences with the pangolin, but what they both agree on is that no good will ever come from killing a pangolin. On an ecological sense, and on a far more spiritual sense, the pangolin is cherished, and its endangered status does not bode well for the planet.

The pangolin is a fairly small mammal that is covered in hard keratinous overlapping scales. It is a nocturnal animal and uses its very long and sticky tongue to seek out the ants and termites that make up its diet. In order to protect themselves from predators as big as lions, pangolins, are able to curl up into tight balls using their scales as a defence. There are eight known species of the pangolin, with four situated in Africa and four in Asia, and all 8 of these species, though more specifically those in Africa, have been placed on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix 1 listing – meaning that they are the most endangered with the threat of extinction.

Peirce’s book offers the reader general facts about the pangolin and multiple full-colour photographs of the mammal throughout the book. In the first chapter, he details the work of Ray Jansen and his work, and in the preceding chapters, we follow a poached pangolin from Zimbabwe all the way to Johannesburg, South Africa where a complicated sting operation takes place in the parking lot of a crowded shopping centre. These chapters involve the motivation behind poaching in developing countries and the real people that are behind the poaching and selling of illegal and exotic animals.

The book discusses the realities of retrieving poached species, and the recovery and rehabilitation process that the animals and their dedicated rescuers undergo. Specifically the work of Dr Karin Lourens and Nicci Wright who work for Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, and Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, owned by Nicky and Strilli Oppenheimer. Peirce spends a few chapters discussing the future of pangolins with the helpful insight of dedicated researchers at Tswalu – Wendy Panaino, Dylan Smith and Valery Phakaogo, who have all dedicated their lives to researching and monitoring rescued pangolins that have been released back into the wild.

“Consumption of products from the natural world is deep-rooted in many Eastern cultures: traditional medicine and eat-anything poverty are two major drivers at one end of the consumer hierarchy; luxury food consumption, recreational use and status are at the other.”

Peirce also goes into great detail discussing Southeast Asia and China’s wet markets, where he travelled in order to get some clarity into how shockingly available these animals and their parts are. This is in stark contrast to his descriptions of the lengths tourists will go to just catch a glimpse of pangolin in the wild.
Finally, the pangolin and its link to the outbreak of the SARS virus, and more recently to COVID-19 and the global pandemic lends a chilling conclusion to Peirce’s well-researched and heartfelt ode to this gentle and wanted animal. In the conclusion the author discusses the future of the pangolin and leaves the reader with a smattering of hope in the form of the people that have ultimately dedicated their lives to save this creature, and the plea to those in power – change your policies, take action and we can help save the “most trafficked mammal in the world” and essentially ourselves.

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