Scaly Anteater or Pangolin (Manis culionensis)
I encountered the scaly anteater or pangolin about 15 years ago Irawan, Puerto Princesa. In another instance, I saw this animal walking slowly on the ground looking for food in an area marked by mounds of termites and stand of inyam (Antidesma ghaesembilla). I could not help it but get awed by the Palawan pangolin or scaly anteater (Manis culionensis) as it walked slowly but consistently under the clearing of our uncleared homelot. Upon our approach, the scaly anteater rolled up into a ball. That is why it is called “balintong” by the locals, which means “stumble and roll over”.
We were not able to catch the scaly anteater as we were apprehensive of its sharp armor of scales. I got another glimpse of the animal while in captivity. The encounter was brief because it escaped from the wooden box which temporarily contained it. Its unidirectional scales pushed it out of narrow places. Once they get through something, they will most likely pass through. The scales serve as leverage for its escape.
Although I have my digital camera now, opportunity did not present itself for another shot. It may be because they have been displaced by the fast growing population of Puerto Princesa where once vacant lands were converted into subdivisions.
The picture featured at right was taken by my student, Alejandro Bernardo, Jr., from a preserved (stuffed) animal. I just modified it a little bit to give it life.
Two weeks ago, I saw an old picture of the pangolin and its offspring while on tour with relatives in the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (PWRCC) in Irawan. This was the picture taken by a Japanese expert back in the early 1990s. I took a shot of the old picture, made a few tweaks and added it below.
The scaly anteater attains a total length of two and a half feet, its tail length about a foot long. It is covered by broad, horny, and tough overlapping scales protecting the dorsal portion of its neck, the body and all over the tail. The ventral or abdominal portion is relatively unprotected but finds protection when the animal curls itself tightly. It has a long, piglike snout that seems to hiss while looking for termite mounds. Since it feeds principally on termites, it has no teeth and has to rely on its long sticky tongue to feed. Its eyes are small, followed closely posteriorly by its small ears with raised skin fold. It is generally pale yellowish white in color while the scales are translucent. It has a distinct, a bit pungent, smell.
The scaly anteater appears to be oblivious of things or movement in its surroundings during daytime as it is more adapted to active movement at night. The mammal will respond to disturbance using its sense of smell than sight. The scaly anteater has strong claws allowing it to burrow through termite mounds. Once the nest of termites on trees or on the ground are reached, the anteater extends its long, sticky tongue to get to the termites. Its claws and strong tail allows it to climb trees or hang among the branches. In captivity, feeding was not observed, apparently because they are not accustomed to such an environment. Their primary objective appears to be to escape captivity and go on with their natural way of life.
The scaly anteater inhabits areas where termites abound, such as those grown with “inyam” (Antidesma ghaesembilla) and “bangkal” (Nauclea orientalis), woody trees susceptible to termite attack. They are also spotted in forest patches close to open areas.
Although the Palawan pangolin is endemic to the province of Palawan, particularly in the mainland and in the islands of Culion and Busuanga north of mainland Palawan, related species are found in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, Borneo and other parts of Asia.
I seldom see the anteaters anymore. This may be because these animals are edible, its scales are used for making fancy articles, and some believed its bile could cure asthma. They are rarely found nowadays.