These strange looking mammals have long sticky tongues and are also known as ‘scaly anteaters’. They are often mistaken for reptiles because their skin is covered in an armour of scales and their main defence is to curl up into a ball. There are eight species of pangolin, found in Africa and Asia, but all face an uncertain future and range from vulnerable to critically endangered. They are all protected species, but illegal hunting for meat, skins and Chinese medicine is driving population numbers down.
Pangolins are elusive animals and there is little data about population sizes and locations. It is thought likely that the four Asian species have disappeared from much of their past range.
Pangolin action plan
Pangolins are one of the most hunted mammals on the planet. Every year, tens of thousands of these endangered animals are taken from their natural habitat and sold on the black market as food or medicine. Over the last ten years, an estimated 1 million pangolins have been bought and sold. With so little known about population numbers, conservation organisations and government are struggling to control this illegal trade, so a major priority in efforts to save the pangolin is to increase the level of information about these amazing animals. The ICUN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group was reformed in 2012 in an effort to save the pangolins from extinction. Their highest priorities are to develop ways to monitor the remaining population and to implement patrols in areas where pangolins are still managing to survive. Another major goal is public education. Reducing the demand for pangolin meat and scales is essential if these animals are going to be saved and the group also hope to boost law enforcement in countries where pangolins are being caught, trafficked and sold. At this stage, setting up breeding and rehabilitation programs is much lower on the list of priorities. Without knowing where the animals are, in what numbers and with the demand for pangolin meat still so high, efforts to bolster the populations are secondary to attempts to stop them being taken from the wild in the first place.
With so little known about population numbers, conservation organisations and government are struggling to control this illegal trade, so a major priority in efforts to save the pangolin is to increase the level of information about these amazing animals
Three causes of extinction
Pangolins are hunted for meat, skins and for use in traditional medicine. The largest market is in China and the four species of Asian pangolin are increasingly threatened as a result of local poaching. Tracking the illegal trade in pangolins is proving challenging and without adequate information about supply routes, authorities are struggling to stem the tide.
2. Habitat loss
The eight species of pangolin live in very different habitats, from flooded forests to open grassland, but human encroachment is a universal threat. They are burrowing animals and dig enormous holes beneath the ground to sleep, but with the expansion of agricultural land, particularly in Asia, their homes are under threat.
3. Lack of knowledge
These unusual animals are secretive and nocturnal and little is known about their biology, ecology and population levels. This lack of knowledge is a significant barrier to conservation efforts and biologists are working hard to increase our understanding of these threatened animals before it is too late.