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The Wisdom of the Flying Pangolin


Many months back, in the fall of 2019 I had a lucid dream. I was resting on the shore of a lake, when suddenly three creatures emerged from beneath the surface. They appeared to be winged flying armadillos. They were scaled on the outside, and furry on the underside, they had long rounded snouts and piercing eyes. I did not recognize them.


They flew at me with an urgency and I turned and ran in fear. As they followed me I began to realize they meant me no harm, but they were delivering a message of great consequence. They flew alongside me and looked me in the eye. I struggled to understand and awoke with a start, my heart beating and my mind swirling in a tumble of thoughts and emotion. I spoke to my husband of my strange dream in an attempt to untangle and make sense of the message. I told him how this odd land creature with scales and fur emerged from the depths of the water, and had wings to fly. How it chased me and I felt it was telling me something, but what?

The more I read, the more captivated I became with this animal. The pangolin was so full of wisdom, so full of pain, and in desperate need of being seen more holistically in the world. It had been reduced to a commodity of pieces and parts: It was seen only as food, ancient medicine, folklore and magic, and as a way to make money. This species is the poster animal for how poorly people interact with other beings. The pangolin has been treated with such disrespect by humans. Trafficked to the point of extinction in Asia.

My curiosity peaked, I searched the Google for “flying armadillos.” I found a band in Texas called the Flying Armadillos, but also a host of pictures, some of which were not armadillos at all. They were pangolins, an animal I had never heard of until that very moment. I recognized them immediately as the creatures in my dream, only these ones did not have wings. I began to study it in earnest, finding many news articles and conservation sites dedicated to their protection. These beautiful animals are in fact mammals and they had a story to tell. My heart broke as I learned who they were and the plight they suffered at the hands of human beings.

The pangolin is the only known mammal on earth with scales, and sadly, they are also the most trafficked animal in the world. While they appear more like an anteater or an aardvark with scales, they are more closely related to carnivores such as cats and dogs. Their protective scales are made of Keratin, the same material as our fingernails and hair, and these scales cover the pangolin entirely, except on their bellies which have hair like other mammals.


The word Pangolin is derived from a Malayan word, “penggulung,” which translates to roller. This makes sense because when the pangolin feels threatened, they roll up in to a ball, which protects them from natural predators (think lions in Africa). You can find videos online of lions batting around rolled up pangolins like a scaled ball like a ball of yarn. If they have babies, the mama also rolls up around the baby pangolin – such fierce mama love. The gestation period for a baby pangolin ranges from 4.5 to 10 months depending on the species, and typically results in the birth of a single off-spring. The mama carries her baby around on her tail – how adorable and wonderful is that?! What isn’t cute or wonderful is the way these animals are being poached to the point of extinction. Of the 8 species, 2 are listed as critically endangered, 2 as endangered and the remaining 4 are listed as threatened.

A female tree pangolin (also known as the white-bellied pangolin and three-cusped pangolin), native to equatorial Africa, carrying her baby on her tail.
A female tree pangolin (also known as the white-bellied pangolin and three-cusped pangolin), native to equatorial Africa, carrying her baby on her tail.
The magic of the pangolin was not in its scales or in its meat, but in its story. It made me stop and recognize how we humans have lost our ability to know intuitively what other animals already know – everything is connected. All life is sacred.

The more I delved into the world of pangolins, the more captivated I became. The pangolin was so full of wisdom, so full of pain, and so in need of being seen more holistically in the world that I felt physical pain as I read story after story of the abuse it suffered. It had been reduced to a commodity. It was defined as food, ancient medicine, folklore, magic, status and money. This species has been treated with such disrespect by people. Trafficked to the point of extinction in Asia, and now it is being illegally poached and trafficked heavily in Africa. It is routinely transported across continents ‘barely alive’ and often times dead, back to Asia where it is sold in the now infamous wet markets as a delicacy, and for its scale’s which are believed to be ‘magic.’


All the efforts to save this animal were being thwarted as governments across China and Vietnam failed to enforce illegal trafficking laws put into place by conservationists. My heart wrenched with each article I read, and every picture I drank in with my eyes. Beyond the photographs and videos, I found beautiful jewelry, stuffed animals, story books and paintings dedicated to helping this animal. I began praying for the pangolin, for species diversity and an answer to the blindness of humans in earnest.

Young Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), also called thick-tailed pangolin and scaly anteater is a pangolin native to the Indian subcontinent and living on the edge of extinction due to illegal mass poaching.
Young Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), also called thick-tailed pangolin and scaly anteater is a pangolin native to the Indian subcontinent and living on the edge of extinction due to illegal mass poaching.
If humans continue on the current trajectory of never having enough, it will likely end with the critical ecosystems supporting all life on the planet being destroyed. Although many people know this, many more do not. I cannot help but believe the 2019 version of the corona virus was delivered to human kind to teach us to slow down and give us more space to see what is important to the collective.

As I contemplated, I saw the irony of people exploiting pangolins for their 'magical' scales or meat. The magic of the pangolin was not in its scales or in its flesh, but in its story. It made me stop and recognize how we have lost our ability to know intuitively what other animals already know – everything is connected. All life is sacred. Take what you need, but only what you need. Honor and enjoy the beauty of the natural world around you. We humans, we are moving so fast, we have eliminated nearly all of the white space in our lives to simply be. We have also lost touch with nature as we have been drawn further and further into our screens and contrived cultural structures.


Without the capability to connect to nature, without the skills to slow down, and simply 'just be,' we have lost the ability to intuit. To hear and follow our inner knowing. We desperately seek to fill the void inside from the outside with food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, sex, religion, education, achievements. The void that can simply be filled by stopping all of this outside nonsense and going inside. If we were capable of simply being and following intuition, we would see how the destruction of our environment and the other beings on the plant is ultimately the destruction of ourselves. We would clearly see and know that tearing down arctic, rain, and boreal forest biomes are not only the destruction of hundreds of thousands of other species, but ultimately the destruction of our species. We would see how polluting the water and air is the demise of all beings, including ourselves. We would see how the destruction of a single species merely to feed our egos, to increase our status in our respective cultures, to make money, is unjust and immoral. We have put so much emphasis and value on money, markets, capitalism, credentials, achievements and other contrived measures of status that we have become less capable than all the other species around is. We have lost the ability to just be silent, and to listen to our inner knowing so that we can live in a way that supports collective peace, well-being and respect for all species and beings on our planet.


The plight of the trafficked pangolin is no longer a conservation issue alone. It is no longer the lonely and helpless predicament of the pangolin, burdened with the greed and inability of humans to recognize and respect the sanctity of all life and all species. What the pangolin is teaching us is that we are one. We are all connected. The demise of one is the demise of all. No longer can we turn a blind eye to the abuse, and complete destruction and eradication of wildlife and ecosystems simply because we ‘desire their scales’ or their meat is considered a delicacy and a symbol of status.

Pangolin in Namibia Photo Credit : Alex Strachan.
Pangolin in Namibia Photo Credit : Alex Strachan.
Perhaps the message from the species' suffering the brunt of humans, the bats, pangolins, bees, cattle, chickens, camels, and so forth, is “take heed.” If humans cannot stop themselves, the planet and nature will simply do it for them. While I am no fan of Covid-19 or pandemics in general, if that is what it takes to stop humans from behaving without any regard for the well-being and survival of other species, or the future of the human species, then let it be so.

We march to the beat of blatant consumerism. Consume anything and all things, letting nothing stand in the way of acquiring more. More status, more land, more possessions, more food, more technology, more pride, more power, just more. There will never be enough, until there isn’t anything left. If humans continue on the current trajectory of never having enough, it will likely end with the critical ecosystems supporting all life on the planet being destroyed. Although many people know this, many more do not. I can’t help but wonder if the 2019 version of the corona virus was delivered to human kind to teach us to slow down. To think more about what it is that is important to the collective. To look at what we are doing individually, and as a group, and understand how that will impact the future. To step out of greed, glutton and rampant consumerism. To stop making the health of markets and pocketbooks the measure of our goodness, our status, and our success.


Perhaps success and goodness comes in a more humble package and takes into account all life on the planet. The health of the earth, the cleanliness of water and air, the ability for all species to thrive and live with happiness and well being. This will never be realized as long as humans behave as the most wasteful and wicked of animals on this planet. We do without thinking. We do without feeling. We do without connecting the dots and seeing the big picture. The time as come to rediscover how each of us fits into the whole. Perhaps the message from the species' suffering the brunt of humans, (bats, pangolins, bees, cattle, chickens, camels, and so forth,) is “take heed.” If humans cannot stop themselves, the planet and nature will simply do it for them. While I am no fan of Covid-19 or pandemics, if that is what it takes to stop humans from behaving so inhumanely, without any thought of the well-being and survival of other species, or the future of the human species, then let it be so. If it takes a hundred pandemics, before humans can see how we fit into the whole, than that is what it takes. Let’s hope we can pull it together as a collective, and as individuals, to re-imagine how we fit into the overall whole. It is time to re-imagine how other species fit in as well. They are not there to be exploited – they are there to live out their days with the same happiness, respect and peace that we all desire. I knew this like I knew how to breath or make a pot of oatmeal.


It felt like this beautiful creature came to me in a dream because I had been searching for a path to step into my authentic skin, to bring forth what was inside into the spaces and communities around me. I was longing to merge the world inside of me with the world outside of me, and the longer I waited, the harder it was to ignore the calling. The callings from Reiki and mystical phenomena, the contemplative trainings, the experiences in creativity and consciousness, the yoga and breathwork allowing me to move more easily between every day life and flow states- all of this which had been evolving and growing beneath my surface for decades, was being called forth. This part of me that I identified as light and spirit, that supported bringing others, animals, people, and things into balance, was crying out for more space in my life.


It was as though this mysterious creature was carrying a message from Divine Intelligence, though not necessarily the answer I had been imagining. I knew with discomfort my path involved energy work, meditation, the animal kingdom, and leaving a comfortable and long-held career in information technology at a major automotive manufacturer. While my IT career offered many opportunities for personal growth and nicely supported myself and my family, I'd known for years it was deeply out of alignment with my passions and unique capabilities. This dream felt like a wake up call to need less, be more and take right action. I had no idea how it all fit together and I began experiencing roller-coaster of terror interspersed with thrill jumbled together into a new emotion I now know as feeling "territhrilled." I now know that when I feel territhrilled, I am onto something REAL. I am about to step into a more authentic space, which will eventually lead to me standing more firmly in my truth.

A ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), curled up into a ball on the ground. It is also called Temminck's pangolin or the Cape pangolin, and is one of four species found in Africa.
A ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), curled up into a ball on the ground. It is also called Temminck's pangolin or the Cape pangolin, and is one of four species found in Africa.
The pangolin tells us our deepest well-being is connected to the wellness of all beings on the planet. It tells us we are not individuals but rather a single thread in the beautiful fabric of life

I fell in love with this beautiful mammal, and the wisdom it offered us in the moment the entire world was on lock-down due to Covid-19. When the pangolin feels threatened, it curls up into a ball and goes inward. When we humans feel insecure, a sense of sadness or threatened, we also often curl up into a ball and shelter inwards. When we feel loss, emotional pain, or unsure what to do, we often find ourselves intuitively curling inwards, both physically, energetically, and mentally. This is our instinct, our inner knowing. When we stop and move into silence, we we go within to introspect, we are often surprised to find the answers we seek. We have been trained collectively in this modern world to seek the answers out there, but the pangolin is telling us in no uncertain terms, to look within. The answers we are seeking are inside of us. This is the wisest of wisdoms, as each one of us holds the answers to our deepest well being and our unanswered questions.

Why were the pangolins flying in my dream? It feels to me their message included that all of life is one. There is no ‘other.’ There is little difference between the beings on land, in the water, or in the air. All beings are calling out to be seen and recognized as one, and all of life is delicately and intricately interconnected. The pangolin tells us our deepest well-being is connected to the wellness of all beings on the planet. It tells us we are not individuals but rather a single thread in the beautiful fabric of life. I feel humbled by pangolins. Their wisdom of sheltering within, seeking inwards, and the oneness of all beings on the planet is good medicine that we all need right now if we are to survive what is to come as the planet warms and species are dying off in a real time mass extinction event.


My tribute to this wise, beautiful and tormented creature, is to bring the pangolin and its story more fully into the world with my own small offering of healing and light that is taking shape into an offering of Reiki and service to animals. It is also my honor to tell the pangolins story over and over. Every time someone asks me, what is a Pangolin? Or did you mean Penguin? Or is that a mythical creature? Each time I answer, I feel blessed with the opportunity to share a little bit more about this animal, their fight for survival and the wisdom they impart if only we slow down long enough to listen.

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