World Pangolin Day (16th February)

World Pangolin Day (16th February)

Posted on Saturday 16th February 2019

Categories: Wildlife

Amazing animals: Pangolins; Natural recyclers and keepers of the soil

Pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, are unique mammals that are covered in hard, plate-like scales. They are insectivorous (feeding on insects) and are mainly nocturnal, remaining in their burrows during the day and coming out to hunt at night. 

They use their keen sense of smell to locate termite and ant nests, then they use their large and elongated claws to excavate the nests. Large salivary glands coat their tongues with gummy mucus, and they use this to ‘stick’ the ants and termites to the tongue before consuming them. They also possess a tongue which can extend as long as their body to help them to reach deep into nests and consume their prey.  

A single pangolin consumes as much as 70 million insects per year—mainly ants and termites.  When the pangolin’s tongue is fully extended, it can be up to 16 inches (over 40 centimeters) longer than its entire body length! In fact in most species, their tongues actually start deep in their chest cavity, arising from the last pair of ribs, and are about a quarter inch (0.6 cm) thick. Additionally, their sticky saliva coats their tongues to help the bugs.

The name, “pangolin”, is derived from the Malay word “pengguling”, which loosely translates to “something that rolls up”. When pangolins feel threatened, they curl up into a tight, almost impenetrable ball to protect their tender undersides. If caught, they will thrash about using their tail muscles. Because their scales have very sharp edges, they can slice the skin of a human or predator when they do this. They may also release the stinky fluid from their glands as a defense mechanism.

Pangolins’ scales are made of keratin, the same protein that makes up our own hair and nails, rhino horns, the “teeth” of baleen whales, and the claws of bears (and other clawed animals). Their scales cover the entire body from head to tip of tail — except for their undersides, which are covered with a few sparse hairs.

Pangolins play a crucial role in ensuring forest soils remain nutrient rich, and thus whole ecosystems remain healthy due to their natural behaviours. Their burrowing and excavating behaviours mix and aerate the soil —much like what happens when we turn the soil in our gardens or plough crop fields.

This improves the nutrient quality of the soil and aids the decomposition cycle, providing a healthy substrate for lush vegetation to grow from. When abandoned, their underground burrows also provide habitat for other animals.

This natural behaviour makes the Pangolin one of the ultimate natural recyclers and one of the most important members of the natural community to ensure the continued health of the forests in which they live.

Pangolin conservation; Pangolins are one of the most ‘trafficked’ animals in the world, with millions of individuals being captured and taken from their forest homes each year to meet the demand in both China and Vietnam for their scales and body parts in traditional medicine and their flesh for human consumption. 

The Chinese and the Sunda pangolins are the most endangered of all eight species. In the case of the latter, their numbers began to decline quite rapidly around 1990 and the population has been halved over just the last 15 years. The IUCN reports that Chinese pangolins have also been greatly reduced over this time period. Despite being protected by CITES, poaching is decimating these (and other) species.

The biggest threat to all pangolin species today is illegal, commercial hunting for human consumption. African species are largely hunted as bushmeat, but there also seems to be some regional use of their scales and other body parts in folk medicines and cultural traditions and rituals. In China and Vietnam (the primary sources of demand for pangolins), the flesh of both adult and fetuses is considered a delicacy and some mistakenly believe they will be blessed with health benefits if they eat it. Their scales, blood, and other body parts are also widely used in traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs) and ‘health tonics’. There is mounting concern that African pangolins will increasingly be targeted to supply the burgeoning Far East demand for these animals, as Asian species’ populations continue to plummet toward extinction. In fact, recent events suggest this may already be happening.
Despite the fact that scientific studies have proven that keratinous body parts of other animals (e.g. rhino horns) are void of any medicinal or curative properties, many continue to consume pangolin scales as a TCM remedy for a wide variety of health problems, such as reducing swelling, promoting blood circulation, and stimulating lactation in breastfeeding women. More recently, rumors likely spawned by Chinese pangolin “farming” business ventures have falsely claimed pangolin-derived TCMs can even cure cancer. As a result of the black market demand for these animals, an estimated 41,000-60,000 pangolins were plundered from the wild in 2011 alone.

To help the Pangolin please visit 

Learn More

Click HERE to watch ‘Guardians of the Pangolin’ documenting the plight of Pangolins and the work of Save Vietnam Wildlife to rescue and rehabilitate them

Click HERE to watch ‘The story of the rescued Pangolin Katiti in Namibia’


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