BARTLESVILLE — A new pocket-sized game is helping save one of the world’s most endangered animals — the pangolin — a unique, scale-covered, insect-eating mammal of Asia and Africa.
The game is the brainchild of Tim and Sara Kilpatrick, owners of the Bartlesville-based studio, Hero Factor Games.
Back in November, the local husband-and-wife team released Pangolin’s Puzzle, a unique logic puzzle game for iOS and Android devices. The mobile game presents a new twist on a classic logic grid puzzle and centers around a pangolin, a peculiar animal who’s vulnerable to extinction due to soaring demand for its scales and meat.
“It’s helping kids and adults to think through problems, much like they have to save pangolins in the wild,” said Sara Kilpatrick. “Each puzzle is integrated into a story about a little pangolin who basically gets separated from her family and has to overcome a series of challenges to learn her place and purpose in the world.”
The Kilpatricks were inspired to spread the word to the mobile gaming audience after initially learning about the scaly species.
“We started the project by actually researching for a different project, and along the way we found information about the pangolin, and I read this article by a guy at CNN and it broke my heart,” Sara Kilpatrick said. “We got back together with the team the next day and said we need to do something to save this animal.”
The game connects players to the animal’s struggles and the challenges faced by those who work to save them. The main character, Katiti, is named after a real baby pangolin rescued by REST Namibia, and 50 percent of the profits from in-app purchases go toward REST, said Kilpatrick.
“What we’re trying to do is change the consumer demand by raising awareness throughout the world that the animal exists and needs to be saved. The other part of it is to donate and support the organizations that are doing the groundwork and the really hard work,” Tim Kilpatrick added.
The couple hopes the game will gain a big following on World Pangolin Day set for Feb. 16, where pangolin enthusiasts and mobile gamers alike can join together in raising awareness about the rapidly declining creatures.
Proceeds from the game will help raise awareness about the unique mammals and save them from their plight, said Sara Kilpatrick.
An estimated 100,000 pangolins are taken from the wild every year across Africa and Asia. Their meat is considered a delicacy by some in China and Vietnam, while their scales and fetuses are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a range of ailments from arthritis to cancer.
Across the world, there are eight species ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered so it’s especially critical to raise awareness of the under-appreciated animals, the couple said.
“Pangolins only have one pup per year, and they can’t keep up with the demand from the Asian markets, which is growing. The difficulty is that there are so many different illegal black markets out there that are trading the creature that they have almost already gone extinct in Asia,” said Tim Kilpatrick.
Now black marketers are turning to Africa to gather Africa pangolins in areas where it is very difficult to provide police control, he said.
The big fear, noted Sara Kilpatrick, is that the mammal will be extinct before most of the world knows it exists.
“They are so unique; they are so innocent. Pangolins are extremely awkward creatures and so the more you study them, the more you’re like why would anybody want to eat this thing and why wouldn’t anybody want to save this little creature,” she said.
Indeed, a pangolin’s diet consists entirely of ants, and each kind of pangolin eats a different kind of ant, said Tim Kilpatrick.
“They’re very valuable in the ecosystem. They eat ants, so they’re valuable in controlling pests, and they’re kind of defenseless because they roll into a ball to protect themselves. Lions and big cats can’t bite through their scales because they’re so tough, but that’s their only defense mechanism,” he said.
“So it’s really easy to pick them up and put them in a sack, and they have nothing to help them against the humans who are poaching them.”
Another ongoing challenge is that pangolins are almost impossible to keep in a zoo due to their specialized diet and sensitivity to stress.
“They’re very anxious, and they have a tend to deteriorate rather quickly when they get into new or bad situations. And they’re very picky when it comes to what food they eat,” said Tim Kilpatrick.
The Kilpatricks hope that Pangolin’s Puzzle becomes part of a growing movement to raise awareness for pangolins before it’s too late.
They founded their small indie video game company, Hero Factor Games in 2012 and won the BUILD Bartlesville competition shortly after that. They are headquartered in the Rogers State University building of downtown Bartlesville and employ three full-time employees across Oklahoma, as well as several other contract employees across the country and Canada.
For more information, check out https://pangolinspuzzle.com and https://herofactorgames.com.