The tree pangolin is pretty great at being weird. It's got scales made of keratin covering its entire body, except for its belly, snout, ears, and the undersides of its limbs, and it's got no teeth, a tiny head, and poor eyesight. It can emit a disgusting secretion from its anal scent glands, just like a skunk, and when threatened, it will curl up in a ball and make strange cutting movements with its scales. And thanks to this video, we can now see its weird tree-climbing ability in all its glory.
Captured by YouTuber Hassan Merdi, the footage shows how the African tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) walks - not climbs - up the branches of a tree, using its prehensile tail for balance. It can even climb trees with no branches - it just strolls up the trunk like it's no effort at all.
Found all over West and Central Africa, these 'walking pinecones' are now vulnerable to extinction thanks to their status as one of the world's most trafficked animals. According to John D. Sutter at CNN, by the most conservative estimates, 10,000 pangolins are trafficked illegally every year, and that's just the ones we know about.
"If you assume only 10 to 20 percent of the actual trade is reported by the news media, the true number trafficked over a two-year period was 116,990 to 233,980, according to Annamiticus, an advocacy group," says Sutter.
As with many species targetted by poaching and trafficking, pangolins are desired for their unsubstantiated medicinal qualities. Their meat is considred a delicacy in Vietnam and China, their blood is said to have healing powers, and their scales in are boiled and used in traditional medicine. Most devastatingly, pangolin foetuses are considered an aphrodisiac in some parts of the world, with no scientific backing whatsoever.
As Sutter reports, the biggest threat to pangolins isn't just the traffickers, it's the fact that they're such an obscure species - international environmental groups and governments haven't shown much interest in getting behind the cause, and they're not exactly at the forefront of the public consciousness. Which is crazy, because how could this not be everyone's favourite animal:
And just so you know, pangolin pups ride on their mother's tail until they're old enough to get around on their own. Like this. You're welcome.