Pangolins are shy, armor-clad anteaters found throughout Asia and Africa. In recent years, an exploding illegal demand for their scales and meat is pushing all eight species towards extinction. Today, the pangolin has the unfortunate distinction of having become the most traded, least known animal in the world – yet most people know little about them or the grave threats they face.
[crb_slide image=”https://www.rainforesttrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/slider-stock-2.jpg” credits=”Temminck’s ground pangolin, classified as Vulnerable by IUCN, range across much of southern and east Africa. Photo by Shutterstock” title=”” text=””][/crb_slider]
Pangolins are found in a number of Rainforest Trust’s project sites, including current projects in Sumatra, where the Sunda Pangolin lives and the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to White-bellied Pangolins. Protecting the rainforests these animals depend on and supporting anti-poaching patrols with conservation partners on the ground offers the best hope to ensure a future for pangolins and a host of other species.
Found across large parts of southern Asia and Africa, pangolins look a little like scaly wing-less dragons. They are in fact shy and elusive anteaters with strong claws used for ripping into termite nests and long tongues to slurp them up. They have long, prehensile tails to hang from, and carry their babies, called pangopups, on their backs.
There are eight living species of pangolins, four each in Asia and Africa. Today, all four of the Asian species – the Chinese, Sunda, Indian and Philippine – are listed as either endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN. The four African species – the Cape, White-bellied, Giant Ground pangolin and Black-bellied – are all listed as vulnerable.
Shy and nocturnal, scientists know little about pangolins. They are rarely encountered in the wild and difficult to study, making it nearly impossible to estimate how many remain. As they are increasingly persecuted for the illegal wildlife trade, there is a real fear that before we can even learn about the history of these unusual animals – they will go extinct.
[crb_slide image=”https://www.rainforesttrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/slider-1.jpg” credits=”Found in southeast Asia, the Sunda pangolin is Critically Endangered . Photo by Niels Jelsma” title=”” text=””]
For centuries, people have eaten pangolins as bushmeat in Africa and traded their scales for traditional medicine in Asia. In 1820, King George III of England was even gifted an armored suit made from pangolin scales. More recently, in the 1980s there was a craze for pangolin leather until the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) stepped in, banning the trade.
However, in the last decade pangolins worldwide have come under terrible new pressure from an exploding illegal demand driven almost exclusively from newly affluent consumers in China and Vietnam, who value their meat as a “luxury” product and their scales for cure-all medicines.
It is estimated that more than a million pangolins have been killed in the last 10 years for the illegal trade. As demand in China soars, all four Asian species of pangolin have been declared endangered or critically endangered, with many species now teetering on the brink of extinction. As pangolins go locally extinct in Asia, the trade has shifted increasingly to Africa.
Paradoxically, the rarer pangolins become the more their value soars on the international black market, prompting smugglers of elephant ivory and rhino horn to increasingly view pangolin scales as an attractive new commodity.
In an effort to raise awareness for the fifth annual World Pangolin Day, held on February 20th, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) launched an interactive map to help track the massive scale of the pangolin trade. It shows records from 2000 and 2015, including details about where, when and how many pangolins were seized and poached. “The map is intended as a regularly updated resource for use by anybody working in pangolin conservation as well as for general interest,” the EIA noted in a statement.
We need to do more to raise the profile of pangolins and protect these incredible animals.
[crb_slide image=”https://www.rainforesttrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/slider-21.jpg” credits=”A Temminck’s ground pangolin in South Africa. Photo by David Brossard ” title=”” text=””]
If you live in a country where pangolins and their products are traded you can help by not purchasing these products and reporting illegal trade activities to local law enforcement or the IUCN Species Survival Commission Pangolin Specialist Group.