Wild Lunch: A Passion for Pangolins

Charlotte.Coales

Did you watch yesterday's Wild Lunch Wednesdays event with ZSL researcher Lucy Archer?  The 30 minutes flew by, as Lucy discussed her fieldwork experiences, studying pangolins in the Philippines.  If you missed the event, you can watch it here:

We received lots of brilliant questions from viewers and tried to answer as many as we could during the event!  But Lucy kindly agreed to answer a few more afterwards, and this is what she had to say...

What would you like to tell us about pangolins that you never get asked?

Not only are pangolins unusual in that they are scaly mammals, but there are also lots of other quirky facts that are really interesting.  For example, the name pangolin comes from the Malay word ‘peng-goling’ which describes how they roll up (something they do when they feel threatened). They are also unusual in that they have no teeth and are quite smelly!  They have pungent anal glands that scientists think might help them deter predators, mark territories, or attract mates.

Due to their lack of teeth, they are thought to eat small stones to aid digestion by helping them grind prey in their stomachs and, during our study, local people reported pangolins eating soil and ash – potentially for the same reason.  Also, pangolins are extremely strong.  I was lucky enough to hold a juvenile pangolin and couldn’t believe its strength for such a small mammal. They need these strong muscles to help them dig and climb. 

A Philippine pangolin, curled up.
A Philippine pangolin (Manis culionenisis) © Lucy Archer

Are there any ‘safe areas’ in the world where the pangolins can be released and protected?

I’m not sure what the protocols are for other pangolin species/individual countries, but at present pangolins that are being released in the Philippines will be released into areas far from roads and close to where they are thought to have come from (if known), ideally within protected areas.  In general, release sites are chosen carefully and won’t take place in areas where poaching is known to take place. 

Are you in contact with any local pangolin poachers?  If yes, do you engage them in your research?

Yes we are and yes we do. Alongside our Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) surveys, we conducted key informant interviews with people involved in the trade of pangolins – for example, local hunters and middlemen involved in the pangolin trade.  We are currently analysing this data to better understand the key trading routes and areas implicated in the trade of the species.

A camera trap photo of a pangolin climbing a tree
A pangolin searching for food, photo taken using a camera trap © ZSL

What do pangolins eat?

Pangolins are myrmecophagous mammals which means they feed primarily on ants and termites. They have really long tongues covered in sticky saliva which helps them feed on this specialised diet.  

Are some of the 8 species of pangolin more endangered than others?

All eight species of pangolin are considered to be threatened with extinction and are in decline, but are classified at varying threat levels on the IUCN red list. The Philippine pangolin, Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin belong to the highest threat category and are considered Critically Endangered.  

 

We also recieved a popular question during the event referring to the current pandemic.  This is outside of Lucy's area of research, but you can read more about diseases in wild animal populations in this ZSL blog by Professor Andrew Cunningham and in ZSL's position statement on COVID-19.

It's been great to see how popular this Wild Lunch event was, and how much interest there is in pangolin research and conservation.  You can find out more about pangolins, the different species, and ZSL's efforts to help conserve them here.
 

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