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Pangolins in Peril

Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years work within zoos.


World Pangolin Day takes place each year during the third week of February. The main aim of the day is to draw the World's attention to the extreme threat that this interesting and harmless little creature is facing today.

Singapore April 2019

The seizure of 12.7 tonnes of scales, worth an estimated $38 million, follows last week’s haul of 12.9 tonnes. The scales in that seizure, the biggest of its kind worldwide in five years, were said to have come from about 17,000 pangolins.

January 27 2021

Nigeria seizes pangolin scales bound for Vietnam

“The items, falsely declared as furniture, comprised 162 sacks of pangolin scales"

EACH SCALE WEIGHS 5 to 10 Grammes!

January 6th 2021

5.75 kg of pangolin scales seized from gang in Tamil Nadu

The number of pangolin scales legally imported went from almost nil to nearly 13 tonnes between 2013 and 2017 China accounted for 99 per cent of the legal trade

In 2019 "Worldwide, more than 128 tons of Pangolin Scales were intercepted—an increase of more than 200 percent from five years earlier!"

Pangolin Scale Seizure

Each scale 5-10 grammes

Each scale 5-10 grammes

The Pangolin is on the edge of extinction!

The Pangolin is on the edge of extinction!

The present trade in the Pangolin means that within a few years there will be none left. Huge numbers of these attractive, inoffensive, mainly nocturnal mammals are being captured all over Asia to supply a medicinal meat market. Their numbers are now so decreased and the trade so lucrative that African Pangolins are now being traded in Asia. This is a protected species which appears to be getting very little protection.

Over the past couple of years more than 38 tonnes of Pangolins have been siezed by authorities. Tonnes! Tonnes! When you consider that adult Pangolins are in the four and five kilo range this is an awful lot of animals. This harvest of the wild is not sustainable and 38 tonnes is just a fraction of what is smuggled across borders successfully. The prices for live Pangolins is higher than that for dead so attempts are made to transport live. Rescued animals are usually weak from starvation when found and cannot be simply released. Sadly their specialised diet will mean that rates of recovery must be very low. There are no available figures as to how many 'saved' animals ever return to the wild.

38 Tonnes sounds an awful lot but back in March 2009 Chumphon Sukkaseam, a senior official with the Association of Southeast Asean Nations (ASEAN) Wildlife Enforcement Network stated:

More than a 100 tonnes of smuggled pangolin meat heading to China was confiscated in the region last year but that is only 10 to 20 percent of the amount of Pangolin meat successfully smuggled into China,”

Pangolin meat is much favoured, mainly by uneducated Chinese for its meat, The blood is looked on a cure for erectile dysfunction and the scales for a variety of purposes including boosting milk flow in nursing mothers.

Pangolin Foetus Soup

Photograph courtesy Bjorn Olesen, WWF/TRAFFIC/IUCN

Photograph courtesy Bjorn Olesen, WWF/TRAFFIC/IUCN

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There are seven (or eight) species of Pangolin which range throughout the tropical parts of Africa and Asia. They have no teeth and feed exclusively on ants and termites (a myrmecophagous diet) which they are ideally adapted to tackle. Their long powerful claws easily dig into termite and ants nest and the long sticky saliva coated tongue quickly catches their prey. All the Pangolins are covered in armoured scales. Soft at birth these quickly harden and are made up of the same material as human fingernails.

Pangolin on Tree

Photograph courtesy Bjorn Olesen, WWF/TRAFFIC/IUCN

Photograph courtesy Bjorn Olesen, WWF/TRAFFIC/IUCN

Pangolins in Captivity

Pangolins have proved, due to their specialised diet, to be a difficult species in captivity and few go beyond three years, though as long as twenty years has been recorded. The National Zoo in Washington is one of the more succesful zoos in recording eight births. Overall though the poor captive record has meant that only those zoos which are able to provide a natural diet now choose to keep them. Further research on artificial diets is ongoing and is now probably essential if zoos are to take a future role in breeding and rei-introduction to the wild.

There are those who would argue that 'once it has gone it is gone' but we really have no idea how important a role the Pangolin plays within the web of life. It is recognised that they keep the ant and termite populations in check...and all without the use of pesticides. Without the Pangolins, pesticide use and its associated pollutants would have to be used.

Taipei Zoo have had some success in the maintenance of the Formosan Pangolin and have bred successfully.

Nandan Kanan Zoological Park in India bred an Indian Pangolin back in 2007 and were planning a breeding and release centre for the species. There has been no news on this project since.

Pangolins in Peril

Baby Pangolin





My First and Last Pangolin

I was lucky enough to visit the Pangolin facility in Cuc Phuong in Vietnam. My visit was at night because all species of Pangolin except one are nocturnal. The exhibits are not set up for public viewing but for studies of maintenance and diet. I entered an exhibit with one of the less shy animals who climbed me as though I was a tree. The long claws and strong grip bruising my leg. I would not have missed it for the world. My first living Pangolin.

This little ambassador won me over. I hope that he is not the last Pangolin I will ever meet. Many will never see one....Ever....because they may all be gone.


One Last Thought

Just think. 100 Tonnes of Pangolins gone. How many ants and termites did they consume in a night? Who is consuming them now?

Think of crop damage. Natures policeman the Pangolin is no more.


Diana J Limjoco from Puerto Princesa, Palawan on February 16, 2015:

Thanks for featuring this wonderful creature. I had the blessed fortune to take care of one for a few months.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on April 12, 2012:

nicomp - Since I wrote this hub the situation has become much worse. You may not get the chance to eat one even if you had not promised not to.

nicomp really from Ohio, USA on April 12, 2012:

Never heard of a Pangolin, but I promise never to eat any.

Marianne Kellow from SE Thailand on July 16, 2009:

Oh dear Peter, I'd no idea of the true extent of the loss of this lovely creature! How can we educate people to see their myopic actions have such an ongoing effect? Its got to start in every school across the developing world hasn't it. But that has to start with Governments.......................................

Cindy Letchworth from Midwest, U.S.A. on July 16, 2009:

Another sad fact of what man does to nature.

When I look at this creature I wonder who ever thought to try to eat such a thing. Again man fails, forgetting that this animal provides us a service.

We humans are so slow to learn. I hope the Pangolin is saved. Thanks for enlightening us about this creature.

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