Pangolins are world’s most trafficked animals because of their meat and scales. This harmless animal has become increasingly known as the world’s most trafficked non-human mammal. There are thousands of pangolins that are poached each year; most of them are killed to be used in Chinese traditional medicine and their meat, which is a delicacy among the wealthiest in Vietnam and China.
What is a Pangolin?
- Pangolins are a group of African and Asian mammals whose body is covered in hard scales.
- Sadly, evidence shows that it is the most trafficked animal across the globe.
- They have small heads, long snouts and longer tongues that are effective in slurping up ants from their nests.
- This is why some people call them scaly anteaters.
- Their name ‘pangolin’ comes from ‘penggulung’ a Malay word that means ‘one that rolls up’.
- A pangolin that feels threatened in any way will curl into a ball that is impenetrable to predators.
- A pangolin’s tail is also covered in scales like the rest of its body
- This makes their tail very strong.
- Some pangolins live in trees and use their tail as a fifth limb, which is strong enough to support their body weight.
- Currently, there are eight known species of pangolins, four African and four Asian.
- Fossil evidence indicates they all evolved in Europe.
- Pangolins are threatened species and have already been listed in IUCN’s Red List as endangered, critically endangered or vulnerable.
- The four Asian species – Philippine (endangered), Indian (endangered), Sunda (critically endangered) and Chinese pangolins (critically endangered).
- The IUCN has listed them as endangered species.
- The other four species found in Africa include the black-bellied pangolin (long-tailed pangolin), white-bellied (tree pangolin), giant pangolin (giant ground pangolin) and the ground pangolin (Cape pangolin) have been listed as vulnerable.
How Pangolins Reproduce
- Pangolins are only known to spend time together when mating and bearing young ones.
- Some pangolin males (father) will remain in their den until the young offspring is independent.
- Their babies are born with soft scales, which harden after only two days.
- They will still ride on their mothers’ tail until they are fully weaned at three months.
- By the time they are two years old, a pangolin has reached sexual maturity.
- The gestation period of female pangolins lasts between 10 – 22 weeks, varying by species, and will only give birth to one live baby.
- Baby pangolins are called pangopups, at birth; they only weigh 340 grams (12 ounces) and are about 15.24 cm (6 inches) long.
- Their soft scales harden very fast.
Mammals with Scales
- Although they act and look a lot like armadillos and anteaters, pangolins are closely related to dogs, cats and bears.
- They are the only mammals whose entire body is covered in scales.
- Similarly to our fingernails, their scales are made of keratin.
- Pangolin scales comprise 20% of their total body weight.
- Much of the pangolin’s head and tail are covered in sharp, horny and overlapping scales.
- The belly, the throat, inner parts of their legs and sides of their face are the only body parts that are not covered in scales.
- In the same way as humans have hair, the scales grow throughout a pangolins life.
Worlds Boniest Tail
- Another amazing fact about the pangolins is that they have more vertebrae than any other animal species.
- For instance, Sunda, Philippine, Indian and white-and-black-bellied pangolins have a semi-prehensile tail that is used for climbing trees.
- Also, females use their tails to carry their young ones.
- A black-bellied pangolin has been found to have approximately 47 or 46 vertebrae, which is the highest number in any animal.
- If caught by a predator, pangolins use their tail muscles to thrash about.
- The edges of their scales are so sharp that they can slice the skin of a predator or human.
- The stinky fluid released from their glands acts as a defense mechanism.
- Pangolins are perfectly protected by their scales to an extent where only a few predators can kill them.
- As a matter of fact, the only predators capable of eating pangolins are large cats like lions, tigers and leopards, though sometimes some strong animals like a hyena can break through the scales.
- It is very common for pangolin scales to prove impenetrable, and a dangerous predator like a lion will just walk away leaving the unharmed pangolin after several unsuccessful attempts and the pangolin will trundle away unscathed.
- Evidence suggests that pangolin scales usually bear marks and scratches of previous predatory attacks.
Confusion Over the Pangolins
- One of the most confusing aspects about pangolins is that they can voluntarily constrict their nostrils and ears to avoid attacks by insects.
- One of pangolins smartest adaptation to their ant-eating trends is that they can completely close their nostrils and ears using powerful muscles that protect them from attacks by the ants.
- The most surprising aspect is that the pangolins nose helps them find ants, but close them when eating. Thus, it is nostrils closed for eating and open for hunting.
- Pangolins have poor hearing and vision, but their sense of smell is very powerful.
- They have a special gland near their anus that secretes a pungent odorous fluid used for both defense and marking territory.
- Like other animals, pangolins scent mark with their urine and faces. It is true to state that a pangolin smells like a skunk.
Pangolins Swallow Stones
- Pangolins are known to mostly eat termites and ants, though they also eat other invertebrates.
- One pangolin can eat about 20,000 ants in a single day.
- This can go up to 73 million ants in a year.
- As pangolins lack teeth, the contents of their stomach are ground with small pebbles that aids digestion.
- Their stomach is lined with spine-like protrusions pointing inwards towards the center of their stomach.
- Pangolins do not have teeth; therefore, they cannot chew food.
- Pangolins stomachs have keratinous spines and swallow stones to help them grind up food in the same way as a birds gizzard.
- There is no other animal that is known to have such behavior.
The Length of A Pangolins Tongue
- Pangolins have a long and sticky tongue that is even longer than their body.
- The tongue is attached near their last pair of ribs and their pelvis.
- The longer tongues are beneficial to their eating habits because they help them to reach far inside the nests of ants.
- If a pangolin extends its tongue fully, it is longer than its head and body.
- Some pangolin species have a tongue that is more than 40 cm in length, which is ideal for getting inside termite nests.
Where Do Pangolins Live?
- Some pangolin species live in trees, while others find shelter in the underground burrows.
- Pangolins have four legs, and each foot has three claws.
- These creatures have large, curved claws used for excavating termite and ant nests.
- Pangolins use their claws to pull bark off logs and trees to locate their prey.
- These claws help the pangolin to rip into termites’ and ant nests.
- The claws are also helpful to the arboreal species when they are climbing trees.
Are Pangolins Endangered?
- Illegal pangolin trade has become very lucrative.
- Illegal trade is the biggest threat to pangolin species.
- Pangolin species found in Africa are largely hunted for meat.
- African pangolin species are also hunted for religious use of their body parts in rituals, cultural traditions and folk medicines.
- In Vietnam and China (major markets for pangolins), the flesh of both fetuses and adults is considered to be a delicacy.
- Some people believe their health will improve if they eat pangolin meat.
- Their blood scales and other parts of the body are used in ‘health tonics’ and traditional Chinese medicines.
- With the Asian species plummeting towards extinction, there is increased concern that the African species will be more targeted to supply the huge Far East demand for pangolins.
- Recent evidence indicates that this could be happening already.
- The population of all these pangolin species is on the decline due to the rampant illegal trade.
- In 2016, all member countries in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered species (CITES), a treaty that controls international wildlife trade, agreed to ban pangolins commercial trade.
- Pangolins are mostly hunted for meat, for use as fashion accessories and in Chinese traditional medicine, especially in Vietnam and China.
- The rampant illegal trade of Asian pangolins is rapidly reducing their population.
- The Sunda and Chinese pangolins are the most endangered among the eight species.
- The population of Sunda pangolins began declining fast around 1990 and the numbers have been halved in the last 20 years.
- IUCN reports indicate that Chinese pangolins have also reduced immensely over the past 15 years.
- Although they are protected by CITES, increased poaching activities are almost sending these species into extinction.
If you have read through the 10 amazing facts about the pangolin listed above, then there is no doubt that you are an avid pangolin enthusiast. It is important to note that with the increased danger facing pangolins, the world Pangolin Day is a great opportunity for all pangolin enthusiasts to work together in raising awareness about the plight of these unique mammals. This is because conservationists have already suggested that the scaly anteaters, or pangolins, can be poached out of existence if the illegal hunting activities continue.