Meet the pangolin

Pangolin

Animal Stats

OrderPholidota
FamilyManidae
PopulationNo population estimates for any of the 8 pangolin species
Weightfrom 1.5 kg to 13 kg
Sizefrom 38 cm to 59 cm
Threat StatusThreatened status: All 8 pangolin species are considered threatened

Where It Lives

Africa: Black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), White-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), Giant Ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) and Temminck's Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii).

Asia: Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) and Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla).

Fascinating Facts

The world's only scaly mammal

Pangolins are the world’s only scaly mammals!

When predators attack, the pangolin rolls into a ball and uses its scales as a defence.

A closer look

The pangolin's story

The word pangolin comes from the Malay word penggulung, which means ‘roller’ – can you work out why? When they feel threatened, pangolins can roll into a tight ball for protection behind their hard keratin scales. The number of scales each species has is different. For example, a Sunda pangolin has around 1000 scales on its body. Rolling up in a ball keeps a pangolin safe from most predators but sadly not from humans, who poach them for their unique armour and to eat. Pangolin scales and meat are in high demand on the black market, meaning the pangolin is now the most illegally traded wild mammal on the planet. In fact, one pangolin is illegally stolen from its home every five minutes!

Pangolins, or scaly anteaters as they are sometimes known, feed on invertebrates, mostly ants and termites, using their claws to dig out insect nests. Most pangolins, apart from the black-bellied pangolin, are nocturnal, which means they come out at night and sleep through the day. Pangolins are also very secretive mammals that are hard to find. Some species, like the black-bellied pangolin (whose tail is twice as long as its body!), live in trees while others burrow underground. Even though most pangolins are very shy, Indian pangolins have been known to explore local villages and even burrow into people’s homes!

Although all eight existing species of pangolin are found in Asia and Africa, fossil records tell us that pangolins may actually have evolved in Europe! All pangolin species usually have only one baby at a time, but the length of pregnancy can be very different across species. While Indian pangolin pregnancy lasts around 65 days, Chinese pangolins are pregnant for around one whole year! Pangolins are Asia and Africa’s version of the anteaters you find in South America, but anteaters are unrelated to pangolins.

The biggest threat to most pangolin species is illegal hunting and poaching for local use and international trade. More than one million pangolins are believed to have been taken from the wild over the past decade. Despite a ban on trading wild-caught pangolins in Asia, the illegal trade is thriving. Consumers are willing to pay lots of money for their meat, which is considered a luxury food in the East. Their scales are also used in traditional Asian medicines, believed to treat a range of ailments, even though they are only made of the same material as our hair and fingernails. Because of this trade, pangolin populations are declining across all species. The Chinese pangolin and Sunda pangolin populations have declined by around 80% in the last few decades, disappearing completely from some habitats.

What’s being done?

The IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group has launched a conservation action plan, which lays out the steps that need to be taken to clamp down on the illegal trade and protect the future of pangolins in Asia and Africa. The action plan ‘Scaling up pangolin conservation’ focuses on: protecting habitats with strong pangolin populations; helping local communities move away from poaching; making sure the law protects pangolins and finding ways to stop people wanting to buy pangolins. Members of the group come from pangolin conservation organisations from across the world that are working to save the shy but special pangolins.