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The Pangolin: The Most Endangered and Overlooked Mammal Who Needs Our Help!

Updated on June 30, 2016

Book trailer for Brenda Thornlow's latest novel Life, As Is!

What is a Pangolin and Their Role in the Ecosystem?

Pangolins, also known as "scaly anteaters,” are nocturnal mammals native to southern Asia and Africa. The word “pangolin” is Malayan for “rolling over” or “roller” and the name was given to this animal due to its habit of rolling up in a ball when feeling threatened. Except for their undersides and the sides of their face, pangolins are covered in overlapping scales made from keratin. What distinguishes the Asian pangolin from the African is that the Asian have bristles that emerge from between their scales. As some species dig deep burrows for sleeping and nesting, their scales, like human finger nails, get filed down then grow back regularly. These burrows have been known to contain circular chambers that are large enough for humans to crawl through and stand. Some species, such as the Malayan pangolin, sleep in the hollows of trees and logs. Their estimated weight can range between four to seventy-two pounds.

There are eight different species; four species African and four Asian:

The African pangolins include:
•Cape / Temminck’s
•Tree / African white-bellied
•Giant ground pangolin
•Long-tailed / black-bellied

The Asian pangolins include:
•Indian / thick-tailed
•Chinese / Formosan
•Malayan / Sunda
•Palawan / Philippine

Their diet plays an important role within the ecosystem. The diet of the Pangolin consists primarily of ants and termites which, it is believed, they supplement with various other invertebrates including bee larvae, flies, earthworms, and crickets. It is estimated that one adult pangolin can consume over seventy-million insects annually, making these mammals crucial to pest control. They locate insects by utilizing their well-developed sense of smell, digging through mounds, fallen logs and stumps in search of ant and termite nests and capturing the insects with an unusually long and sticky tongue that can extend up to ten-inches long. It is estimated that they can live up to twenty years in captivity but it is not clear as to how long they live in the wild.

The Threat

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has listed three species of pangolin under Appendix II of endangered mammals and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed six species as endangered/near threatened. In 2013, through CITES, the Vietnamese government passed a law banning any sale, possession and use of pangolins whether alive or dead, bumping them to the highest category of legal protection. Despite legal protection, some experts say that pangolins are most likely the most trafficked mammal in the world. It is estimated that they are poached more than 3,000 times faster than rhinos.

Pangolins are believed to be the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world, but few people know that that they exist. They are captured and sold for their scales which are which are boiled off their bodies and used in traditional medicine and accessories; their meat, which is a high-end delicacy in Asia; and for their blood, which is believed to be a healing tonic. More often than not, pangolins are trafficked while alive, being deprived of water and food. One of many examples of this cruelty was reported by Annamiticus, an advocacy group dedicated to ending the exploitation of endangered animals; in 2012 a former policeman was sentenced to only one year in prison for attempting to smuggle eighteen panglolins out of Malaysia by keeping them in the trunk of his car in a plastic bags. (

According to Annamiticus, in 2013 there were forty-nine reported instances of illegal trade of pangolins across 13 countries with about more than 8,000 pangolins confiscated. As seizures only represent between ten to twenty percent of the actual number that are illegally traded, chances are the actual numbers are closer to between 40,000 to 80,000 that are killed within one year. To make matters worse, opportunities for reproduction are limited as the female pangolin only gestates once per year.

Rehabilitation centers do exist for those that are rescued, but sadly, as capture puts these animals into such distress and they are usually starved and dehydrated while in captivity, many of them die sometimes as soon as one day after their rescue. Although efforts are being made to end the removal of pangolins from the wild, wildlife authorities who rescue live pangolins from illegal traders need assistance on developing the adequate facilities and techniques to care for injured and stressed pangolins and release them back into the wild.

Although little research has gone into learning more about these animals, recently, more attention has been directed toward the pangolin; in fact the IUCN on February 15th hosted a World Pangolin Day. However, the reality is that there is still very little funding and inadequate public and governmental awareness about the trade and the need for protection for these overlooked animals. For example, there are no detailed studies available on the life history, ecology or the population levels of the Sunda pangolin and just as little information about the other various species.

Rhino numbers for South Africa only.
Rhino numbers for South Africa only. | Source

What You Can Do

Anywhere you may find pangolin meat or products, in any form, do not purchase it.

As few know about these mysterious creatures, help spread the word about them to create awareness. Some resources are: IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group ( a site developed by researchers and conservationists dedicated to learning and teaching more about the pangolin; and Save Pangolins ( which has some great information on what makes the pangolin so unique and ways you can help.

Demand better law enforcement to protect the Pangolin by lending your support to groups such as TRAFFIC ( The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network and Education for Nature – Vietnam (

(c) 2014 Brenda Thornlow

Brenda Thornlow was voted one of the 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading for 2015. She is the author of the new fiction series My Life as I Knew It; The Revolving Door; A Godless Love and her memoir, My Short-Lived Life at Being Perfect. Available at Amazon. (Link below)

© 2014 Brenda Thornlow


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    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 

      4 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      How sad that people kill these poor little creatures for stupid reasons like catering to superstitious beliefs that their flesh, blood, and scales possess some sort of healing magic. How stupid to kill animals that must eat vast quantities of ants, termites, and other insect pests!

      I hope more people learn about pangolins and the illegal and idiotic trade in their body parts that is endangering such a beneficial and harmless species.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I'm more horse crazy but i like other animals too my 2nd fave is dog like there are so many poelpe out there who love dogs like me but I'm more pony precious then puppy precious like who does not like dogs or horses like if there is any endangered or threatened animals why got too help them that's why we signed up right so we shall protect any animal that is in harm because we are earth rangers we do our job in bringing back the wild we protect any animal RIGHT CAUSE WERE EARTH RANGERS AND WE PROTECT AND BRING BACK THE WILD!VN:F [1.9.10_1130]please wait...

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Your posintg lays bare the truth

    • Bk42author profile imageAUTHOR

      Brenda Thornlow 

      5 years ago from New York

      Thank you, Swilliams! I had never heard of them until recently either and they're such cute animals. Thank you so much for reading!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Wow! This is a very unique article! I've never heard of such an animal. Thank you for the insightful article Voted up! Interesting and useful, I love the pictures too!

    • Bk42author profile imageAUTHOR

      Brenda Thornlow 

      5 years ago from New York

      Hi Raeth, I have heard that. It really is very sad how it all comes down to money rather than saving a living being.

    • RaethMorgan profile image

      Raeth J. Morgan 

      5 years ago from Everywhere and Nowhere

      I hate to say this but it's a sad truth. There is no money to be made in their protection and a majority of the people in the conservation field are only concerned with the conservation of the "flavor of the month" type animals.

      I have worked at a couple of wildlife refuges here in the USA and they tailored their conservation efforts on animals that make the refuge money. They were more concerned with providing suitable habitat for the waterfowl than the endangered Western Pond Turtle.

      That is because they allow hunting on the refuges which brings in money from the hunters and money from groups such as Ducks Unlimited. They also allow farmers to plant crops on the refuge to "provide ground cover to stabilize the soil and provide food for the ducks" of course they also get money from the farmers.

      I asked my supervisor about conservation efforts for the Western Pond Turtle and they basically said "you get the money and then you can do it". I was fairly new in the field and I had no clue how to write grants or who to turn to for the money.

    • Bk42author profile imageAUTHOR

      Brenda Thornlow 

      5 years ago from New York

      Thank you for stopping by Learn Things and Hackslap! Have a great day!

    • Hackslap profile image


      5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      What an awesome creature! .. I've never seen one even in a zoo .. great hub!

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      J Jahan 

      5 years ago from California

      I've often heard of pangolins. It would never have occurred to me they would be heavily trafficked animals.

    • Bk42author profile imageAUTHOR

      Brenda Thornlow 

      5 years ago from New York

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing, Katia! Enjoy your weekend!

    • Katiadejuan profile image

      Katia De Juan 

      5 years ago from London, UK

      Great hub! And what an adorable animal, I had never heard about them. Thanks for sharing all this information. Love the section of "What you can do". Voted and shared. :)

    • Bk42author profile imageAUTHOR

      Brenda Thornlow 

      5 years ago from New York

      Thank you WriterJanis & MsDora! They really are cute animals. Feel free to share & spread the word! Have a great day! :)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you for introducing the Pangolin. So adorable, but greed may not be charmed by anything except money. I appreciate learning about this endangered mammal.

    • WriterJanis profile image


      5 years ago from California

      What cute animals. I had not heard of them before reading this. Thanks for putting this hub out there so others can learn of them and try to help them.

    • Bk42author profile imageAUTHOR

      Brenda Thornlow 

      5 years ago from New York

      Thank you for reading and sharing Jackie & Faith! :)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      New to me too and I do hope they can be saved. So odd with the reptile like skin and soft warm mammal underside. Who but God could be responsible for this? Great article. ^+

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      I have never heard of the Pangolin. Thank you for bringing awareness to such an important issue as this, so sad indeed!


    • Bk42author profile imageAUTHOR

      Brenda Thornlow 

      5 years ago from New York

      Thank you, Billy! Have a great night!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love articles like this one that raise awareness about things that are important. Nice job of research and of course nice job of writing.

    • Bk42author profile imageAUTHOR

      Brenda Thornlow 

      5 years ago from New York

      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing Alicia, Randi and Jodah! :)

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Pangolin need to be protected like so many other creatures being trafficked around the world especially Asia. There needs to be stricter penalties for poaching and trafficking of animals and body parts and products. Many Asian countries have the death penalty or life in prison for drug trafficking, animal trafficking should be treated as just as serious a crime. Good hub, voted up.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      I have never heard of the Pangolin. Thank you so much for this enlightenment as well as the wealth of information you provided! Up+

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for sharing this information. The pangolin is a lovely animal. It's a great shame that it's in such trouble.

    • Bk42author profile imageAUTHOR

      Brenda Thornlow 

      5 years ago from New York

      Thank you DrMark! Enjoy the rest of your night!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Great "What you can do" section. The numbers are astounding. Voted up and interesting. Thanks.

    • Bk42author profile imageAUTHOR

      Brenda Thornlow 

      5 years ago from New York

      They really are adorable! Thanks so much for reading and sharing. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

    • raymondphilippe profile image

      Raymond Philippe 

      5 years ago from The Netherlands

      What a lovely, adorable creature. I think I never saw one in real life. It is such a shame that people buy through illegal trade. Voted up and shared.


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