There are eight species of pangolin: Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), Temminck’s or ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), Philippine pangolin (Mania culionensis), giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea), white-bellied or tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), black-bellied or long-tailed pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla)
Why are pangolins important?
Pangolins eat termites and ants so they contribute to the regulation of insect populations which if not kept in check can cause damage to vegetation and crops.
Because they spend so much time digging – either for food or to excavate underground burrows to sleep and give birth in – they play an important role in mixing and moving soil around, which releases nutrients and helps maintain the fertility of the soil.
Chinese, Sunda and Philippine pangolins are Critically Endangered, giant ground, white-bellied and Indian pangolins are Endangered and Temminck’s, and black-bellied pangolins are Vulnerable
Population unknown, declining. All species, except Philippine pangolins, assessed in 2019. Philippine pangolins assessed in 2018
Hollow trees or underground burrows, depending on the species, in tropical and sub-tropical forests, thick bush, grasslands and open savannah, semi-arboreal
Four of of the eight species of pangolin are found in south Asia and four in Africa
Hunting and the illegal wildlife trade; habitat loss
Body length – 20-100+ cm tails – 26-70 cm, Weight – 2-30kg, depending on the species
Did you know?!
Pangolins are the only mammals known to have scales.
How to recognise a pangolin
Pangolins are mammals with plate-like scales all over their bodies, except their faces and underbelly. When threatened, they roll up into a ball and their scales form an armoured exterior. Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same protein that makes up human hair and nails, and the scales harden as they reach maturity.
Similar to skunks, pangolins can secrete a foul-smelling odour from the glands near their anus, which they use to mark their territory as a deterrent.
Pangolins are nocturnal and have poor eyesight, they rely on hearing and sense of smell to locate their prey. They use long, powerful, curved claws to tear open anthills or termite mounds, and with no teeth, they use a sticky elongated tongue to retrieve insects. Pangolins have no teeth but use their sticky elongated tongues, reaching up to 42.5 cm in length, to capture and ingest prey.
The giant ground pangolin is the largest and heaviest of the eight species, and the Indian pangolin is the smallest and lightest. Males are generally larger and heavier than females.
Where do pangolins live?
Pangolins are found mainly in primary and secondary tropical and sub-tropical forests in Africa and South Asia, but they also exist in thick bush, grasslands, open savannah, and even some degraded habitats such as oil palm plantations and around villages.
Pangolins tend to be solitary animals, meeting only to mate. The gestation period depends on the species, but all give birth to a single offspring. A young pangolin stays with its mother for around three to four months and grips onto her tail while foraging for insects.
Pangolins live and give birth in hollow trees, the spaces between large rocks, or in underground burrows, depending on the species.
Pangolins spend some of their life on the ground and some in the trees, varying from species to species. Their long tail is used for scaling branches and for balance when walking.
Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked mammals. Historically they’ve been hunted for their meat, bile, scales and claws, and their scales are used in traditional medicine in China and Vietnam.
High levels of hunting and poaching for the illicit trade in their meat and scales – for traditional medicines in Asia – mean there has been a dramatic decrease in pangolin populations over the last 15 years.
Pangolins can adapt to some degree of habitat degradation but sustained deforestation of their natural habitats – largely driven by commercial operations, such as logging, mining and hydropower dams – is an issue. The construction of roads has also facilitated hunting and poaching by opening previously inaccessible areas. The conversion of primary forest to agricultural land is a major driver of habitat loss. Fencing and road deaths also have an impact on populations.