Pangolins look like reptiles at first glance. But although many of us think they are reptiles, they are actually mammals. They are the only mammal species covered with scales, and they use these scales to protect themselves from predators in the wild. When pangolins are threatened, they immediately curl up into a tight ball. Also, this species uses its sharp tails to defend itself.
Four species found in Africa: Black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), White-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), Giant Ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea), and Temminck’s Earth pangolin (Smutsia temminckii).
Four species found in Asia: the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), the Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), the Sundanese pangolin (Manis javanica), and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla).
What Do Pangolins Eat?
Pangolins eat ants, termites and larvae. They are commonly known as the “scaly anteater”. Because they don’t have teeth, pangolins pick up food with their sticky tongues. Pangolins’ tongues can sometimes be longer than their bodies.
As predators that prey on ants and termites, pangolins have a special diet and play an essential ecological role in regulating insect populations. It is estimated that an adult pangolin can consume more than 70 million insects per year, having a significant impact on forest termite control.
Are Pangolins One of the Most Traded Mammals?
It is undoubtedly one of the most trafficked mammals in Asia and increasingly in Africa. Pangolins are in high demand in countries such as China and Vietnam.
Pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine and folk remedies. National and international laws protect all eight pangolin species. However, the illegal international trade of pangolins is still increasing.
Based on cases reported between 2011 and 2013, an estimated 116,990-233,980 pangolins were killed, representing only the visible part of the trade. Experts believe it represents as small a seizure as 10 percent of the actual volume of pangolins in the illegal wildlife trade.
How Are They Protected?
All eight pangolin species are protected by national and international laws. Of the species, two are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In June 2020, China maximized protection for its native Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla). It has closed a significant gap that caused the consumption of these species within the country.
Additionally, the government no longer allows the use of pangolin stamps in traditional medicine. Considering that in 2019 an estimated 195,000 pangolins were sold for their stamps alone, it prevented a considerable profit.