Pangolins are under threat.
Once thriving in the wild, today all eight species of pangolin are rapidly decreasing in number. Threatened by illegal wildlife trade and poaching, we’re working to save pangolins and boost their population – to keep them a part of a vibrant and balanced world of wildlife and biodiversity.
What do pangolins look like?
Pangolins are covered with scales which is a rare trait in mammals. With 46-47 vertebrae, the long-tailed species of pangolin boasts the highest number of vertebrae among mammals. They have long, sticky tongues that are longer than their bodies, and have evolved to be perfectly adapted for eating ants and termites. They have long, powerful claws and are known to curl into a ball to evade predators. Unfortunately, this is ineffective against human hunters who can just pick them up.
The Sunda pangolin has scales that are predominantly dark brown in colour, though they are frequently found with ‘white’ scales on their tails; the reason for this characteristic is unknown.
Pangolins have been described as 'walking pinecones', 'artichokes with tails' and 'modern-day dinosaurs'. While at first glance you might presume they are related to other ant-eating species, scientists now know one of their closest relatives is actually the mongoose.
The word pangolin comes from the Malay word "pengguiling", which is roughly translated as 'something that rolls up'.
Where do pangolins live?
Pangolins are native to reigions across both Asia and Africa. Interestingly, species native to Asia have hair between their scales whereas those in Africa do not. Normally very shy creatures, Indian pangolins have been known to wander into villages and use their impressive claws to dig through concrete and into houses. Chinese pangolins spend their winter months buried in warm underground burrows near termite nests. The Cape pangolin is known to live in burrows already dug by aardvarks and aardwolves, and across Africa, the most prevalent sub-species of pangolin, is the tree pangolin. The Phillippine pangolin inhabits four islands across the region including Palawan and Culion.
What threats do pangolins face?
Pangolins are now the world's most illega'ly traded wild mammal with ore than one million having been poached over the past decade. That's more than rhinos, elephants and tigers combined. In particular, the Sunda pangolin has the deeply undesirable status of the mammal most frequently found in illicit trade.
This threat from poachers is largely driven by increasing demand for pangolin products from the Far East, particularly China and Vietnam. But at ZSL we're working to create practical routes to recovery for these incredible species.
Learn more about how we're overcoming these threats
Turning the tide on the illegal wildlife trade