Everything you want to know about Pangolins!

Animal Story Interview

We love to hear about animals and conservation at Koala Chess HQ. One of our favourite animals has to be the pangolin. "What's a pangolin?" I hear you ask. Well, sit back, grab a tea and read on.

Lydia Katsis from the Pangolin Specialist Group has been kind enough to speak to us. Huge thanks to her. There is a video at the start and at the end too!

Where do you find Pangolins in the wild?

Pangolins are found across large parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. They occupy a range of habitats from tropical and sub-tropical forests, dry woodland and savannah regions, as well as artificial and modified habitats such as oil palm and rubber plantations. However they are very shy and elusive – so you have to be very lucky to see one in the wild!

How many species are there?

There are eight species of pangolin. In Asia there are four species – the Sunda pangolin, Chinese pangolin, Indian pangolin, and Philippine pangolin, and in Africa there are four species – the white-bellied pangolin, black-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin, and Temminck’s ground pangolin.

Pangolins have tough scales, are they still mammals?

Yes, pangolins are actually the world’s only truly scaly mammals – making them very unique! They are covered by hundreds of scales, comprised of keratin, just like a rhino’s horn or our own fingernails.

There seems to be some debate as to what taxonomic classification Pangolins are, are they like more like cats and dogs or more like Armadillos?

Pangolins are actually more closely related to cats and dogs (carnivorans) than armadillos. Armadillos belong to the superorder Xenarthra – which also includes anteaters and sloths. As pangolins resemble xenarthrans in a number of ways it was long thought that they are close relatives, however genetic studies have repeatedly found that carnivorans (cats and dogs) are closer relatives of pangolins. The similarities between pangolins and the xenarthrans are now considered to be the result of similar adaptations to a common way of life, known as convergent evolution. 

Pangolins are on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species - what does this mean?

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ is the world’s most comprehensive list of global conservation status of species of animals, plants and fungi. It categorises and highlights those species facing a higher risk of extinction based upon a set of categories and criteria. All eight species of pangolin fall within the ‘Threatened’ categories on the IUCN Red List. The Sunda and the Chinese pangolin are listed as Critically Endangered, the Indian and the Philippine pangolin are listed as Endangered, and the four African species are listed as Vulnerable.  

What is your role and how did you become involved with Pangolins?

I became involved with pangolins when I started my internship with the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group six months ago. My role as research intern has been really varied and includes supporting communications to help raise the profile of pangolins, helping to update the IUCN Red List assessments for pangolins, and helping to develop a pangolin species identification guide for frontline law enforcement officers.

What is the biggest threat to the Pangolin?

The biggest threat to pangolins is overexploitation for the illegal wildlife trade, which is largely driven by market demand in East Asia. They are traded for their meat, which is considered to be a luxury product, and for their scales which are used in traditional medicines.

Pangolin trafficking occurs in extremely high volumes, despite all the species being listed in Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which gives them the strictest form of protection and bans all international commercial trade in wild pangolins, and despite being protected in most countries in which they occur. It is estimated that over a million have been poached and trafficked since the year 2000, making them the most trafficked wild mammals on Earth.

We have drawn a Pangolin protesting but how can we help save Pangolins?

There are many ways you can help save pangolins. It is really important to raise awareness and spread the word about pangolins – whether by getting creative or by simply following pangolin organisations such as ours on social media and sharing posts! Also donating to organisations dedicated to the conservation of pangolins is really important as it helps fund vital conservation activities.   


Pangolin protesting 

What do Pangolins eat?

Pangolins are specialised insectivores, predating on ants and termites.

Pangolins have amazing claws and very long tongues what do they use them for?

These are examples of their anatomical adaptations to their specialised diet of ants and termites. They use their strong claws to break apart ant nests and termite mounds, and their long, sticky tongue to consume prey.

How does a Pangolin protect themselves?

When they encounter a predator, pangolins protect themselves by rolling up into a ball with their tough scales acting as armour. This is an excellent defence against natural predators, and they can even withstand a lion’s bite. Unfortunately it does not afford them much protection from poachers, and they are easily picked up when found.

How many Pangolins are there left?

As pangolins are shy, solitary, and mostly nocturnal, it is extremely difficult to monitor their populations, and it is very difficult to estimate how many are left in the wild. However research indicates that populations are decreasing rapidly, for example, estimates from China suggest that populations there have decreased by 94% since the 1960s.

Where do Pangolins spend their time?

As pangolins are so difficult to monitor, there is still much to be learned about where and how they spend their time – fortunately research efforts are now greater than ever and we are starting to find out more about their lives. Some species typically spend their time in trees, such as the black-bellied pangolin, whilst others spend their time mostly on the ground, such as the Temminck’s ground pangolin. They typically rest in burrows, within roots or hollows of trees, in dense vegetation, or in the case of arboreal species - high up in tree branches or hollows.

Why do you think people, until recently, have been unaware of Pangolins and their plight?

I think this is partly due to the fact that they are a shy and elusive species that are very rarely seen. However the good news is that awareness for pangolins has increased enormously over recent years, and they are becoming an iconic species – this is positive for pangolins as they are now receiving more attention from governments, NGOs, conservationists, and civil society organisations, and increased funding to support vital conservation activities.    

How and where can we find more information about Pangolins and Pangolin conservation?

You can visit our website www.pangolinsg.org and follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to find more information about pangolins and also about the work the Pangolin Specialist Group and our members are doing to help scale up pangolin conservation and secure a future for pangolins.

Thanks so much to Lydia for her time.


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