Saturday, October 03, 2009

Typical evening at the Anderson’s…Mam and I are upstairs in our bedroom watching T.V. Suddenly we hear a loud noise on our roof. Our roof is corrugated steel so even the slightest stimulus causes a loud sound.

Over the years, both of us have heard all sorts of things on the roof. We’re surrounded by a thick jungle of fruit trees, Sataw trees (very tall trees that produce a popular, edible stink bean), and Mangda trees (popular with Thai’s for their edible leaves).

Some evenings it’s rats. Other times a “widow maker” falls from high above, crashing loudly on the roof and jolting us awake or causing us to jump if we’re quietly watching T.V.

In the early evening and early morning, we hear the scritch, scritch, scritch of teacher birds on our roof. I nicknamed them "teacher birds," since one of their many, varied calls sounds just like they’re saying, “Teacher, teacher, teacher.” Upon looking them up in our well-worn “bird book “sitting on our dining room table, we’ve found that “Teacher birds” are what is known as the “Common Mynah,” here in Southeast Asia.

There are hordes of teacher birds all over the place. Similar to blue jays in the Northeastern U.S.

The sound we heard this particular night was different though. It was definitely an animal, but different than we had heard in the past.

“It’s a bird I think,” uttered Mam, both of us looking up at the ceiling as if we could somehow see through to what was causing the commotion.

“Nope. Too loud and too heavy for a bird,” I said.

“A rat?”

“If that’s a rat, we’re in trouble. That would be the biggest rat I’ve ever seen. It’s heavier than that. Listen…hear how heavy?” Mam turned the volume down on the T.V. and listened as it was actively scurrying across the roof and back again, nodding in agreement.

Then the noise stopped for a while.

Mam and I both were still riveted by the new sound though, so we both were lying in bed silent, waiting.

Three minutes passed…five minutes….nothing.

Mam looked at me and I at her, we both shrugged, and Mam turned the volume up on the T.V. when suddenly it happened again.

A loud scurrying across the roof. Something quite heavy scurried quickly across the roof to the opposite side. If I weren’t in Thailand I’d swear it was a raccoon.

Mam and I got out of bed and went into the adjacent room. Again, looking up at the ceiling we pinpointed approximately where it was, picked up a broom and poked the ceiling underneath the sound with the broom handle.


Things were quiet for some time and we finally turned off the T.V., settling in for the night. No sooner had we drifted off to sleep when suddenly we were jolted awake with another burst of activity on the roof.

Thinking what to do, I figured my only recourse was to go outside with a flashlight and climb the ladder leading up to our water tower…

We’ve got this huge water tower beside the house, which is approximately twenty feet (6.09 meters) high. The thing holds nine-100 gallon blue plastic barrels of water our landlady uses to irrigate the fruit trees during our dry season.

…to see if I could get a good vantage point in which to spot whatever it was on our roof.

I was as silent as I possibly could be. Eventually I reached a height where I had a fairly good view of the south-side of our roof. Positioning myself, I hooked my leg through one of the ladders rungs and hung myself outward, training the flashlight onto the roof.

There, on the lower back corner, was something that at first looked like a takraw ball, a small plastic ball of weaved plastic used to play “takraw” a game like volleyball, but only using one’s feet.

Then the ball moved.

“What is it?” Mam shouted up to me. “Damn-est thing I’ve ever seen,” I uttered.

Finally things began falling into place. I suddenly remembered seeing a picture of this thing somewhere…

And here it is…..

To a Texan like me, my first thought was, “Well I’ll be damned! An armadillo!” Having seen many armadillo’s in Southwest Texas, most of them road-kill though.

Then suddenly it moved. The thing unraveled, got up and in a sort of dragging motion, scurried across the roof to the other side. I quickly descended the water tower ladder and went to the opposite side of the house to see if I could find it, only to discover the animal had disappeared. Most likely it had climbed onto one of the many trees that brush the side of our house, coming into contact with the roof.

After searching the tops of the trees adjacent to the roof, shining the flashlight around to see if I could spot the animal again, I finally gave up and went into the house. Upstairs I had a box of newspaper articles I had clipped and saved, remembering an article I had cut out about the very same animal, which had been found hidden in a trucks cargo hold as the driver tried to cross the border, smuggling several live animals into Cambodia.

Finding the article I didn’t have to read much of it before I came to the name…Pangolin. Quickly scanning the article, it told of the animal being critically endangered, a delicacy in many Asian countries, primarily China, and commanding a hefty price on the black market since it was becoming scarce.

Then I turned to the Internet. A couple of quick Google searches and I was an amateur expert on the thing.

As it turns out, this heavily scaled animal is not related to either an armadillo, or an anteater, two animals it is often confused with. This thing on our roof was in fact, not related to any other animal at all, it’s species being fully unique.

The Pangolin has no teeth, and strikingly similar to an anteater, has an extremely long, sticky tongue used exclusively for reaching into termite mounds and ant nests to lick out its prey.

The Pangolin’s scales are somewhat different than an armadillo, in that they are razor sharp and if handled incorrectly will inflict severe, deep razor-like wounds.

It also has the capability to emit quite a noxious odor if provoked, leading one to understand that this animal is more than adequately equipped to protect itself. How ironic it’s most dangerous predator is man.

One entry on a Pangolin website said this:

“Should you ever spot one of these animals in the wild count yourself extremely fortunate as they are endangered and very rarely seen. If you are lucky enough, your view might be of it rolled in a tight ball; this is one of its main defense mechanisms.”

Well, I certainly do feel fortunate! But I do wish it would pick somebody else’s roof!

Just scanning the area around our home, you can easily see why a Pangolin would choose this area to live. Scattered throughout the area are several huge termite mounds popping up here and there among the various fruit trees and thick jungle vegetation.

For more information about this rather interesting, highly endangered animal, take a look here, or here, or here.



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