Species of pangolins

Species of pangolins

There are eight species of pangolin, and all are listed as threatened with extinction. 

Four pangolin species live in Asia: the Chinese Pangolin, the Sunda or Malayan Pangolin, the Philippine Pangolin, and the Indian or Thick-tailed Pangolin. There are four African species which are the Cape or Temminck’s ground Pangolin, the Giant ground or Giant Pangolin, the Tree or African White-bellied Pangolin, and the Long-tailed or Black-bellied Pangolin. 

Asian pangolins:

Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) – Critically Endangered
Sunda or Malayan Pangolin (Manis javanica) – Critically Endangered
Philippine Pangolin (Manis culionensis) – Endangered
Indian or Thick-tailed Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) – Endangered

African pangolins:

Cape or Temminck’s ground Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) – Vulnerable
Giant ground Pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) – Vulnerable
Tree or African White-bellied Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) – Vulnerable
Long-tailed or Black-bellied Pangolin (Uromanis tetradactyla) – Vulnerable

Sunda pangolin by Dan Challender
Sunda pangolin

Pangolin facts:

  • Also known as ‘scaly anteaters’ pangolins are the world’s only truly scaly mammals.
  • The word "pangolin" comes from the Malay word "pengguling", meaning "something that rolls up".
  • Pangolins have been described variously as ‘walking pinecones’, ‘artichokes with tails’ and looking like ‘modern day dinosaurs’.
  • Although scientists used to think pangolins are closely related to other ant-eating species (e.g. anteaters and armadillos) we now know that their closest relatives are the carnivores.
  • Pangolins are adapted for eating ants and termites. 
  • Their long, sticky tongues are longer than their bodies.
  • They have powerful claws for burrowing and ripping apart ant and termite nests.
  • Their defence mechanism is to curl up into a ball, scales out, which is virtually impenetrable – an excellent defence against their natural predators (lions, hyenas, leopards). Sadly, this defence is ineffective against poachers.
  • The main threat to pangolins is from poaching and illegal trade, driven largely by increasing demand for pangolin products from the Far East, particularly China and Vietnam.
  • Pangolins are now the world’s most illegally traded wild mammal – more than one million poached over the past decade (more than rhinos, elephants, and tigers combined).
  • A pangolin is poached every 5 minutes.
  • Asian pangolins have hair between their scales; African pangolins do not. 
  • Although normally shy, Indian pangolins are reported to wander into villages and have been known to dig through concrete and into houses.
  • The Philippine pangolin is endemic to the Philippines, inhabiting four islands including Palawan and Culion. 
  • The Sunda pangolin has a long history of being traded internationally. In Asia it has the undesirable status as the mammal most frequently found in illicit trade.
  • Sunda pangolin scales are predominately dark brown in colour, though they are frequently found with ‘white’ scales on their tails; the reason for this characteristic is unknown.
  • Chinese pangolins spend the winter months in deep burrows that maintain stable temperatures and are excavated near termite nests, which supply a source of food.
  • The tree pangolin is the most frequently encountered pangolin in Africa.
  • The giant ground pangolin is the largest extant species of pangolin.
  • It is thought the giant ground pangolin is now extinct in Rwanda.
  • The Cape pangolin often uses the burrows of other animals including aardvarks and aardwolves.
  • With 46-47 vertebrae the long-tailed pangolin holds the record for the highest number of vertebrae among mammals.