You may not have heard of these scaly mammals but pangolins are one of the most trafficked mammals in the world. Tens of thousands of these animals are being snatched from their habitats and shipped all over the world because their scales are considered to have medicinal properties and their meat is considered a delicacy.
There are eight pangolin species in the world, with four are found in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa (Black-bellied pangolin, White-bellied pangolin, Giant Ground pangolin, and Temminck’s Ground pangolin) and the other four are found in parts of Asia (Indian pangolion, Philippine pangolin, Sunda pangolin, and the Chinese pangolin). These mammals drastically range in size but often weigh 3.5 to 73 pounds.
Pangolins are solitary and primarily nocturnal animals that have an insectivorous diet. In fact, they are sometimes called scaly anteaters because of how they look and what they eat! The name comes from ‘penggulung’, which is the Malay word for roller, which is an apt description of the mammal’s primary defense. With a heavy armor of scales, pangolins will roll themselves into a ball as a defense mechanism and their scales can even cause serious injuries on anything inserted between them. These mammals have also been known to emit a foul smelling acid from their glands.
All eight pangolin species are considered Vulnerable to Critically Endangered and back in 2016, they were uplisted to Appendix I at the 17th Conference of Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (also known as CITES). Appendix I provides the greatest level of protection to species threatened with extinction and theoretically restricts the commercial trade of the protected species. And last year, conservation groups won a lawsuit that required the US Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether or not to include several of the pangolin species under the US Endangered Species Act. The Temminck’s ground pangolin is already listed as Endangered under the act.
There is so much to be done with conservation of these mammals. Pangolins are rarely found in zoos or rehabilitation centers, as they are very difficult to maintain in captivity. The Zoological Society of London has worked in many areas to conserve pangolins, including community based efforts in Nepal. Plus, there’s the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s SSC Pangolin Specialist Group that has members working on issues like reintroduction, using K9 pangolin detection dogs to find pangolins being transported, monitoring in the wild, and more.
You can support pangolins by not buying any trafficked pangolin items like their scales or meat or supporting organizations doing on the ground work. You can also voice your support for policies like the Endangered Species Act in the US and CITES!