During the day, the vervet[i] monkeys are having fun, doing all the things which happy monkey families do all the time.
At night, they rest high up in the trees and nothing much bothers them. However, on a bright starry night, they hear weird, rustling noises in the undergrowth.
A treefrog croaks a caution – once, and then twice again – about something unusual down there . . . The soft grass rustles and sways with a swoosh in the wind. Suddenly, an odd creature, looking like an upside-down thistle bud[ii] appears in the moonlight. Its strange shadow slowly moves towards a large mound, scratching and scraping as it moves forward.
The monkeys hear a loud slurp, slurp and even louder smacking sounds. Astonished, they realise that those whispery night sounds belong to a very long, narrow sticky tongue! It glistens in the moonlight every time it licks and slurps about.
From a nearby acacia[iii], a wise spotted eagle-owl hoots, ‘Calm down over there, you jittery monkeys! You’re disturbing the peace. There’s nothing to fear here. Our mysterious visitor is harmless. He has no teeth, so he can’t chew anything or bite you. Look carefully at him. He’s slurping some termites from that anthill.’
‘Okay … we see him, but as long as he doesn’t slurp our grasshoppers and figs,’ Monkey chatters under his breath.
‘You’re no match for him, Monkey. His body scales are as hard as a rhino’s horn. If he thinks you want to harm him, he’ll just roll himself into a ball,’ Wisdom hoots, leaving the monkeys in awe of his cleverness.
‘You really know so much, Wisdom! What sort of an . . . animal is he then?’ one of the younger monkeys wants to know.
‘He’s a vun’ne’ribbel[iv] pangolin.[v] Even the good humans want to protect him because he and other anteaters are in danger,’ Wisdom replies, specially batting his eyes and lifting his large ear tufts higher than usual.
‘Now, go to sleep, all you monkeys. I’ll hoot more about the pangolin some other time. Leave our friend in peace tonight, and let him slurp as many ants as he wants,’ Wisdom hoots before putting his head under his wing.
[i] Vervet = One of two monkey species found in South Africa. It has a silver-grey body with a marked black face. The ridge of their eyebrows is white, and so are their feet and tail tip. They feed on fruit, flowers, leaves and insects.
[ii] Thistle bud = a bud on a thistle plant found in Africa. It’s an ancestor of the modern artichoke.
[iii] Acacia = a tree or shrub of warm climates which bears spikes or clusters of yellow or white flowers and is typically thorny.
[iv] Vun’ne’ribbel = a bush creature’s word which means vulnerable or defenceless.
[v] Pangolin = also called a “scaly anteater”, of which there are four different kinds in Southern Africa. The pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal. An estimated 100,000 of these shy creatures are removed from the wild each year. Increasingly, the scaly mammal is hunted for its meat and scales, which are in high demand in some Asian countries. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy while its scales are used in traditional medicine. Yet, these pangolins and other anteaters help control termites and ants, each devouring about 70 Million a year!
In September 2016, all commercial trade in pangolin was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
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