Pangolin

Facts

  • Weight
    4.4-7 lbs
  • Habitats
    Forests and Grasslands
pangolin curled in defense

What's in a name?

Pangolin comes from ‘penggulung,’ the Malay word for roller – the action a pangolin takes in self-defense.

What’s scaly from tip to tail and can curl into a ball?

Pangolins!

These solitary, primarily nocturnal animals, are easily recognized by their full armor of scales. A startled pangolin will cover its head with its front legs, exposing its scales to any potential predator. If touched or grabbed it will roll up completely into a ball, while the sharp scales on the tail can be used to lash out.

Also called scaly anteaters because of their preferred diet, pangolins are increasingly victims of illegal wildlife crime—mainly in Asia and in growing amounts in Africa—for their meat and scales.

Eight species of pangolins are found on two continents. They range from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered.

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

The four species found in Asia: Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla).

All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws, and two are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

In June 2020, China increased protection for the native Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) to the highest level, which closed an important loophole for consumption of the species in-country. Additionally, the government will no longer allow the use of pangolin scales in traditional medicine, a big win given that an estimated 195,000 pangolins were trafficked in 2019 for their scales alone (Challender, et. al, 2020).

The fight to stop pangolin extinction

An estimated 1 million pangolins were trafficked in the last ten years, though this number may be conservative given the volume of recent pangolin scale seizures. Learn what WWF and partners are doing to stop the extinction of this elusive mammal.

A Pangolin hunting for ants.

Why They Matter

  • Pangolins are sometimes mistaken as reptiles, but they are actually scaly-skinned mammals. When in danger, the pangolin can roll into a ball, exposing only the tough scales for protection. Little is known about this elusive creature, so it’s difficult to estimate wild population sizes. But given the demand for pangolin meat and scales, the population is believed to be in decline.

Threats

pangolin digging

—Are pangolins the most trafficked mammal in the world?

They certainly are one of the most trafficked mammals in Asia and, increasingly, Africa. Pangolins are in high demand in countries like China and Vietnam. Their meat is considered a delicacy and pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine and folk remedies to treat a range of ailments from asthma to rheumatism and arthritis. All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws but that is not stopping the massive international illegal trade in pangolins, which has increased in recent years because of growing demand.

Based on reported seizures between 2011 and 2013, an estimated 116,990-233,980 pangolins were killed, which represents only the tip of the trade. Experts believe that seizures represent as little as 10 percent of the actual volume in pangolins in illegal wildlife trade.

What WWF Is Doing

Pangolin

WWF, together with TRAFFIC, is working in Asia and Africa to protect pangolins and other species from wildlife crime. We are actively trying to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products in countries like China and Vietnam. We are also helping governments mount a strong defense against the poaching crisis. And WWF is lobbying for strong national laws and stronger enforcement to ensure that wildlife crime does not pay.

In 2016, an international agreement was announced that would end all legal trade of pangolins and further protect the species from extinction. Countries decided to strengthen existing protections under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—a global agreement between governments to follow rules to monitor, regulate, or ban international trade in species under threat.