The pangolin died — yes, it matters

January 26, 2016

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The male pangolin at Dr Ali Ayaz’s clinic in Gulshan, Karachi. —Photo courtesy of Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)
The male pangolin at Dr Ali Ayaz’s clinic in Gulshan, Karachi. —Photo courtesy of Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)

A member of an endangered species of animals shot five times by a security guard has succumbed to internal injuries, despite earnest efforts by the animal welfare society to save its life.

Yes, this is news, and we ought to pay attention.

A pangolin is a gentle mammal. It has no teeth. It has small, rounded claws, better suited for climbing than defending. When attacked, a pangolin curls up completely into a ball, tucks its tiny head into it, and hopes for the tough scales on its back to keep it protected during the onslaught.

After being shot by a security guard in a posh Karachi neighbourhood, the little ball of bleeding flesh was being harassed by several men with a stick, by the time Dr Ayaz arrived to help him.

Pakistan Animals Welfare Society (PAWS) had been alerted of the situation through pictures of the animal posted on social media by a concerned citizen, Ms Nuvera Sheikh. Regrettably, despite medical treatment, the pangolin didn’t make it.

2016, thus far, has not been a good year for animals in Pakistan.

At Islamabad’s Marghazar Zoo, human indifference to the suffering of animals is as much on display as the animals themselves.

Kaavan, the elephant, has been allegedly been re-chained, and is exhibiting signs of severe stress. Kavaan has been a resident of Marghazar since 1985, his partner – Saheli – died a few years ago.

Elephants are extremely social animals, and the solitude is painful enough without the added problem of being underfed, according to the Pakistan Wildlife Foundation, and being kept in an undersized enclosure, sometimes chained.

Also read: Unloved and in chains — Kaavan

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has lifted the ban on hunting houbara bustards. The government has determined that letting Arab plutocrats kill endangered birds in Balochistan for sport is a “cornerstone of foreign policy”, and is hence all praise over the lifting of the ban.

The pangolin, like the houbara bustard, faces extinction. The Zoological Survery of Pakistan (ZSP) recommended strict conservation efforts to save the pangolin species. Their numbers have been on a steady decline due to poaching, especially because its scales are sought by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.

It is disturbing to note that there is hardly a trail of exotic animal blood not leading to a traditional Chinese apothecary. Animal rights activists and doctors have long battled on this front, and we aim to continue fighting against these unscientific practices and the cruelty against animals that they require.

It may be prudent to keep our fingers crossed, and hope that the pangolin shell trade is not a “cornerstone of foreign policy” with China.


Every attempt to invoke sympathy for animals, is shut down by a retort that animal suffering is unimportant in a country drowning in human misery.


In every online comment section, journalists are forced to justify the “excessive” writing space and airtime given to news of animal abuse, while human suffering persists.

This unholy triage suggests that the human race is not allowed to mourn the pain of anything other than itself; not unless every human malady, from poverty to crime, has been utterly eradicated.

It is only when we’ve achieved a state of Utopian bliss by the next few millennia, should we turn our attention to the four animal species that haven’t gone extinct by then.

Also read: A eulogy for 2,100 bustards

This revolting speciesism is the product of the same mentality that shames us for condemning racism against the Pakhtun people, because fighting terrorism is ‘more important’; or refusing to condemn terrorism, because focusing on corruption is ‘more important’.

I strongly recommend that we start multi-tasking, because we’re in the midst of multiple crises simultaneously, one of which happens to be an existential threat to our country's wildlife.

To belittle a person’s concern for the suffering of an animal, is to rebuke the most human thing about us: caring for someone who isn’t one of us.

We’re judged by how we treat the weakest among us. Surely, the rule applies here too?