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Pangolins in Peril

Updated on January 8, 2016

The Pangolin is on the edge of extinction!

The Pangolin is on the edge of extinction!

The present trade in the Pangolin means that within a few years there will be none left. Huge numbers of these attractive, inoffensive, mainly nocturnal mammals are being captured all over Asia to supply a medicinal meat market. Their numbers are now so decreased and the trade so lucrative that African Pangolins are now being traded in Asia. This is a protected species which appears to be getting very little protection.

Over the past couple of years more than 38 tonnes of Pangolins have been siezed by authorities. Tonnes! Tonnes! When you consider that adult Pangolins are in the four and five kilo range this is an awful lot of animals. This harvest of the wild is not sustainable and 38 tonnes is just a fraction of what is smuggled across borders successfully. The prices for live Pangolins is higher than that for dead so attempts are made to transport live. Rescued animals are usually weak from starvation when found and cannot be simply released. Sadly their specialised diet will mean that rates of recovery must be very low. There are no available figures as to how many 'saved' animals ever return to the wild.

38 Tonnes sounds an awful lot but back in March 2009 Chumphon Sukkaseam, a senior official with the Association of Southeast Asean Nations (ASEAN) Wildlife Enforcement Network stated:

More than a 100 tonnes of smuggled pangolin meat heading to China was confiscated in the region last year but that is only 10 to 20 percent of the amount of Pangolin meat successfully smuggled into China,”

Pangolin meat is much favoured, mainly by uneducated Chinese for its meat, The blood is looked on a cure for erectile dysfunction and the scales for a variety of purposes including boosting milk flow in nursing mothers.

Pangolin Foetus Soup

Photograph courtesy Bjorn Olesen, WWF/TRAFFIC/IUCN
Photograph courtesy Bjorn Olesen, WWF/TRAFFIC/IUCN

There are seven (or eight) species of Pangolin which range throughout the tropical parts of Africa and Asia. They have no teeth and feed exclusively on ants and termites (a myrmecophagous diet) which they are ideally adapted to tackle. Their long powerful claws easily dig into termite and ants nest and the long sticky saliva coated tongue quickly catches their prey. All the Pangolins are covered in armoured scales. Soft at birth these quickly harden and are made up of the same material as human fingernails.

Pangolin on Tree

Photograph courtesy Bjorn Olesen, WWF/TRAFFIC/IUCN
Photograph courtesy Bjorn Olesen, WWF/TRAFFIC/IUCN

Pangolins in Captivity

Pangolins have proved, due to their specialised diet, to be a difficult species in captivity and few go beyond three years, though as long as twenty years has been recorded. The National Zoo in Washington is one of the more succesful zoos in recording eight births. Overall though the poor captive record has meant that only those zoos which are able to provide a natural diet now choose to keep them. Further research on artificial diets is ongoing and is now probably essential if zoos are to take a future role in breeding and rei-introduction to the wild.

There are those who would argue that 'once it has gone it is gone' but we really have no idea how important a role the Pangolin plays within the web of life. It is recognised that they keep the ant and termite populations in check...and all without the use of pesticides. Without the Pangolins, pesticide use and its associated pollutants would have to be used.

Taipei Zoo have had some success in the maintenance of the Formosan Pangolin and have bred successfully.

Nandan Kanan Zoological Park in India bred an Indian Pangolin back in 2007 and were planning a breeding and release centre for the species. There has been no news on this project since.

Pangolins in Peril

The Pangolin

 The Pangolin - a poem by Maianne Moore (1887 - 1972 / Missouri / United States)

Another armored animal–scale
lapping scale with spruce-cone regularity until they
form the uninterrupted central
tail row! This near artichoke with head and legs and
grit-equipped gizzard,
the night miniature artist engineer is,
yes, Leonardo da Vinci’s replica–
impressive animal and toiler of whom we seldom hear.
Armor seems extra. But for him,
the closing ear-ridge–
or bare ear licking even this small
eminence and similarly safe
contracting nose and eye apertures
impenetrably closable, are not;–a true ant-eater,
not cockroach-eater, who endures
exhausting solitary trips through unfamiliar ground at night,
returning before sunrise; stepping in the moonlight,
on the moonlight peculiarly, that the outside
edges of his hands may bear the weight and save the
for digging. Serpentined about
the tree, he draws
away from danger unpugnaciously,
with no sound but a harmless hiss; keeping
the fragile grace of the Thomas-
of-Leighton Buzzard Westminster Abbey wrought-iron
vine, or
rolls himself into a ball that has
power to defy all effort to unroll it; strongly intailed, neat
head for core, on neck not breaking off, with curled-in feet.
Nevertheless he has sting-proof scales; and nest
of rocks closed with earth from inside, which he can
thus darken.
Sun and moon and day and night and man and beast
each with a splendor
which man in all his vileness cannot
set aside; each with an excellence!
"Fearful yet to be feared," the armored
ant-eater met by the driver-ant does not turn back, but
engulfs what he can, the flattered sword-
edged leafpoints on the tail and artichoke set leg-and
quivering violently when it retaliates
and swarms on him. Compact like the furled fringed frill
on the hat-brim of Gargallo’s hollow iron head of a
matador, he will drop and will
then walk away
unhurt, although if unintruded on,
he cautiously works down the tree, helped
by his tail. The giant-pangolin-
tail, graceful tool, as prop or hand or broom or ax, tipped like
an elephant’s trunk with special skin,
is not lost on this ant-and stone-swallowing uninjurable
artichoke which simpletons thought a living fable
whom the stones had nourished, whereas ants had done
so. Pangolins are not aggressive animals; between
dusk and day they have the not unchain-like machine-like
form and frictionless creep of a thing
made graceful by adversities, con-
versities. To explain grace requires
a curious hand. If that which is at all were not forever,
why would those who graced the spires
with animals and gathered there to rest, on cold luxurious
low stone seats–a monk and monk and monk–between the
ingenious roof-supports, have slaved to confuse
grace with a kindly manner, time in which to pay a
the cure for sins, a graceful use
of what are yet
approved stone mullions branching out across
the perpendiculars? A sailboat
was the first machine. Pangolins, made
for moving quietly also, are models of exactness,
on four legs; on hind feet plantigrade,
with certain postures of a man. Beneath sun and moon,
man slaving
to make his life more sweet, leaves half the flowers worth
needing to choose wisely how to use his strength;
a paper-maker like the wasp; a tractor of foodstuffs,
like the ant; spidering a length
of web from bluffs
above a stream; in fighting, mechanicked
like to pangolin; capsizing in
disheartenment. Bedizened or stark
naked, man, the self, the being we call human, writing-
master to this world, griffons a dark
"Like does not like like that is obnoxious"; and writes error
with four
r’s. Among animals, one has a sense of humor.
Humor saves a few steps, it saves years. Uningnorant,
modest and unemotional, and all emotion,
he has everlasting vigor,
power to grow,
though there are few creatures who can make one
breathe faster and make one erecter.
Not afraid of anything is he,
and then goes cowering forth, tread paced to meet an obstacle
at every step. Consistent with the
formula–warm blood, no gills, two pairs of hands and a few
is a mammal; there he sits in his own habitat,
serge-clad, strong-shod. The prey of fear, he, always
curtailed, extinguished, thwarted by the dusk, work
partly done,
says to the alternating blaze,
"Again the sun!
anew each day; and new and new and new,
that comes into and steadies my soul."

Baby Pangolin

My First and Last Pangolin

I was lucky enough to visit the Pangolin facility in Cuc Phuong in Vietnam. My visit was at night because all species of Pangolin except one are nocturnal. The exhibits are not set up for public viewing but for studies of maintenance and diet. I entered an exhibit with one of the less shy animals who climbed me as though I was a tree. The long claws and strong grip bruising my leg. I would not have missed it for the world. My first living Pangolin.

This little ambassador won me over. I hope that he is not the last Pangolin I will ever meet. Many will never see one....Ever....because they may all be gone.

One Last Thought

Just think. 100 Tonnes of Pangolins gone. How many ants and termites did they consume in a night? Who is consuming them now?

Think of crop damage. Natures policeman the Pangolin is no more.


Submit a Comment
  • Diana888 profile image

    Diana J. Limjoco 

    5 years ago from Puerto Princesa, Palawan

    Thanks for featuring this wonderful creature. I had the blessed fortune to take care of one for a few months.

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    7 years ago from South East Asia

    nicomp - Since I wrote this hub the situation has become much worse. You may not get the chance to eat one even if you had not promised not to.

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    7 years ago from Ohio, USA

    Never heard of a Pangolin, but I promise never to eat any.

  • Mountain Blossoms profile image

    Marianne Kellow 

    10 years ago from SE Thailand

    Oh dear Peter, I'd no idea of the true extent of the loss of this lovely creature! How can we educate people to see their myopic actions have such an ongoing effect? Its got to start in every school across the developing world hasn't it. But that has to start with Governments.......................................

  • Cindy Letchworth profile image

    Cindy Letchworth 

    10 years ago from Midwest, U.S.A.

    Another sad fact of what man does to nature.

    When I look at this creature I wonder who ever thought to try to eat such a thing. Again man fails, forgetting that this animal provides us a service.

    We humans are so slow to learn. I hope the Pangolin is saved. Thanks for enlightening us about this creature.


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