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“The Most Trafficked Animal in the World” aka “Prosperity Ritual”

  • What is a Pangolin, Anyway?

  • Why is the Pangolin Endangered?

  • What Can be Done to Help the Pangolin?

  • Why Did You Decide to Paint a Pangolin?

  • What Does the Title of the Painting Mean?

  • Pangolin Fun Facts

I bet you never thought you would find an article about pangolins on an artist’s website!

What is a Pangolin, Anyway?

Pangolin in Tree
photo credit: Frendi Apen Irawan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pangolins are a type of endangered mammal native to Africa and Asia. Covered from head to tale in overlapping, protective scales, they are often referred to as “scaly anteaters,” due to their diet consisting mainly of ants and termites. When threatened, a pangolin will curl itself into a ball where its hardened scales act as armor to defend itself from predators. Several different species of pangolins exist across numerous South Asian and African countries.

Why is the Pangolin Endangered?

Pangolins are endangered due to high demand for their scales, which have traditionally been seen as having medicinal properties, as well as their meat, considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. They are also used in various prosperity and healing rituals by local healers. This high demand fuels illegal poaching, making them the most trafficked animal in the world. It is estimated that up to 200,000 pangolins are poached every year.

What Can be Done to Help the Pangolin?

One solution is to promote public awareness and education about illegal poaching of the pangolin. I did not know this animal existed before working on this painting. Through my research, I learned about their plight. Organizations like Save Pangolins are a great starting resource.

Why Did You Decide to Paint a Pangolin?

This painting is part of a series of paintings I created during Covid, when the world was shut down. I had been living in Los Angeles, CA at the time, working on a TV show for Nickelodeon. However, in response to the pandemic, Los Angeles enacted some of the strictest lockdown procedures in the country. All public facilities, parks, and beaches were closed, and residents were placed under a strict “stay-at-home” mandate. As a result, my work in the film industry also shut down, and I found myself at a complete loss for what to do next.

NC Artist, Katie Peña with her Oil Painting of a Pangolin titled "The Most Trafficked Animal in the World" aka "Prosperity Ritual"

Brushing up on my painting skills seemed like a good use of time for me. After all, I had plenty of supplies laying around and a few canvases that had been collecting dust. I also had time now. A LOT of time, so I started working with other mediums, like resin pours and using alcohol inks. I then began experimenting with using the alcohol inks on canvas, and I loved the vibrant color and patterns the alcohol inks formed on the canvas!

Thinking they would make interesting backdrops if I painted on them, I decided to create a series of animal paintings including a bat, a raven, and a fox. Starved for human interaction, I also began holding weekly “studio” zoom calls with my friend, Steven. Steven also has an art degree, so we used this time to brainstorm new projects and critique each other’s work- sort of a virtual “show-and-tell.”

One day, while searching for my next subject, Steven suggested, “You should paint a pangolin.” Not having any clue what the heck a pangolin was, I had to look them up online. Lo and behold, they were so cute and sweet that I immediately fell in love with the idea! As I researched the pangolin more, the blood red backdrop of my canvas seemed a fitting tie-in for their relationship with humans.

What Does the Title of the Painting Mean?

I originally titled the work, "The Comfortably Destructive Pangolin,” after a video I had seen of a pangolin tearing through a wall with its claws. I was fascinated by the power of this small animal. Later, it was just called, "The Pangolin.” 

I decided to submit the piece to an art gallery exhibition focusing on things that are broken. This theme resonated with me as I thought about the plight of the cute, but mighty, pangolin, and the devastation these species are suffering due to human interaction, so I decided to give my work a more fitting title: “The Most Trafficked Animal in the World” aka “Prosperity Ritual.”

Pangolin Fun Facts

  • A single pangolin can consume around 70 million ants and termites per year.

  • Baby Pangolins are called "pangopups."

  • A pangopup will ride on its mother's tail by clinging to her scales!

  • Most pangolins are nocturnal, and they sleep curled up into a ball during the day.

  • Pangolins have long tongues like anteaters, and they can be extended up to 16 inches!

  • Depending on the species, some pangolins live in trees, while others may burrow up to 11 feet underground.

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about this fascinating mammal!


Interested in working with Katie?



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