It’s not an alien creature, it’s an unfortunate anteater

This photo has been circulating around paranormal, conspiracy and dubious “news” sites like Examiner and Gather. I won’t link to those here but I took one look that this and knew what it was.

Creature from Pakistan

It’s been called a “gorgakh” and was photographed in Pakistan. (The Gorgakh is a World of Warcraft creature, me thinks?)

It’s a pangolin. It looks large due to the closeness of the camera and the people in the background.

Pangolin

Yes, I’m sure pangolins, or scaly anteaters, look really weird to those not used to seeing them. But they are not that unusual. The giveaway as an anteater is the long tongue which is a distinguishing feature of this unfortunate victim. Pangolins are found in tropical regions but not native to Pakistan. Was this an import? Could be, which would explain why people are taking pictures of it. But, let’s be clear, there is not much in this picture that is reliable. We don’t even know that it was taken in Pakistan.

The two points to be made are: one, pangolin populations are threatened – killed for food and medicinal qualities (not been proven to be of any value for that).

Pangolins have been a staple of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but growing human populations and greater wealth across China have increased demand. Pangolin fetuses, scales, and blood are used in medicine, the meat is considered a delicacy, and stuffed pangolins are sold as souvenirs.

The decline in pangolin populations and intensified efforts to curb the illegal trade have led to rising prices for pangolin products – further enticing organized crime rings to smuggle the endangered animals. A kilogram of pangolin scales that earned only 80 yuan (US$10) in the early 1990s would now yield 1,200 yuan ($175) on the black market.

For more on their use in traditional chinese medicine, see this post on Sci American blogs:

Pangolin meat and fetuses—yes, you read that right—are considered delicacies in China. Meanwhile, their scales—which, like rhino horns, are made of medicinally useless keratin—are hawked in China and Vietnam as “cures” for everything from cancer, weight loss, improved liver function and enhanced lactation for breast-feeding women. Pangolins are also used in African traditional medicines known as “muti.” To a lesser extent, pangolin skin is also used for leather and fashion items.

And, two, we should all learn to recognize a deliberate trick photo and hyped “alien creature” account when we see it. For goodness sake, be a little skeptical you click-loving, mystery-mongering web sites. Shame on you for promoting such nonsense.

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  7 comments for “It’s not an alien creature, it’s an unfortunate anteater

  1. mxyzptlk
    August 23, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    Heh. It’s also the mascot of the current Ubuntu linux distribution, Precise Pangolin.

  2. Gareth
    August 23, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    Pangolins are native to Pakistan, sadly though a quick search suggests that this wasn’t an isolated example and that they’re being illegally killed there on a regular basis.

    Apparently Pakistan Today covered this story accurately back in June.

  3. August 23, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    These people don’t need unproven enhancements at the risk of animal extinction. They need lobotomies.

    • Gareth
      August 23, 2012 at 5:53 PM

      Perhaps not. After all it’s hard to imagine anyone with a less enviable conservation record than us Westerners, yet if we’d all been lobotomised.

      • August 23, 2012 at 8:41 PM

        I surely can’t argue against that. Though I can say that ours has been a much less gullible greed.

  4. Wesley Harding
    August 23, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    Pangolins were once lumped under the Order Xenarthra, endemic to the Americas, that includes anteaters, sloths, and armadillos, but is actually unrelated. It’s an example of convergent evolution, where unrelated species acquire similar traits in response to there same environmental selection pressures.

  5. Narvi
    September 5, 2012 at 4:40 AM

    “you click-loving,”
    I read that wrong at first.

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