Pangolin Scales


What is a pangolin, really? Though many think of them as reptiles, pangolins are actually mammals. They are the only mammals wholly-covered in scales and they use those scales to protect themselves from predators in the wild. If under threat, a pangolin will immediately curl into a tight ball and will use their sharp-scaled tails to defend themselves. Being the most trafficked mammal their scales are made up of 20% of their weight. SCIENTIFIC NAME African White-Bellied (Phataginus tricuspis) Giant Ground (Smutsia gigantea) Ground (Smutsia temminckii) Black-Bellied (Uromanis tetradactyla) WEIGHT From 1.5 to 33 kilograms (3.5 to 73 pounds) depending on the species. LIFE SPAN Little data, estimated up to 20 years HABITAT Species dependant: Dense forest, forested savannas, swamp forests, lowland forests, and floodplain grasslands. All species are never far from a water source. GESTATION 3 to 5 months DIET Insectivorous Pangolins eat ants, termites and larvae and are often known as "the scaly anteater." Because they have no teeth, pangolins pick up food with their sticky tongues, which can sometimes reach lengths greater than the animal’s body. The most trafficked mammal in the world? They certainly are one of the most trafficked mammals in Asia and, increasingly, Africa. Pangolins are in high demand in countries like China and Vietnam. Their meat is considered a delicacy and pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine and folk remedies. All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws. But there is still growing international illegal trade in pangolins.


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Based on reported seizures between 2011 and 2013, an estimated 116,990-233,980 pangolins were killed, which represents only the tip of the trade. Experts believe that seizures represent as little as 10 percent of the actual volume in pangolins in illegal wildlife trade.

Pangolins are creatures of the night. They remain in their burrows during the day and come out at night to hunt. It uses its keen sense of smell to locate termite and ant nests, digging the insects from mounds using its claws and eating them with its extremely long tongue (which can be up to 41 centimeters). In some cases, this mammal's tongue is actually longer than their body. Large salivary glands coat the tongue with gummy mucus to which ants and termites stick. When digging for insects, it can constrict their ears and nostrils to keep them out while feeding. All pangolins are able to roll themselves into a ball as self-defense. Their armor-plated scales are also capable of a cutting action, worked by powerful muscles, which inflict serious wounds on anything inserted between them. When threatened, they can also emit a noxious-smelling acid from their glands, similar to skunks except there is no spraying..

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Females are usually alone with their young. Infants are about 15 centimeters long and weigh about 3 to 16 ounces at birth. Their pale, soft scales begin to harden by the second day. The baby is folded in the mother's lap or rolled-up body. Nursed for 3 to 4 months, it begins to eat termites at 1 month. At this time the infant begins to accompany the mother, perhaps riding on the base of her tail. If the mother senses danger, then the baby slips under her and is protected when she rolls up her body. Challenges Demand for pangolin scales and meat is driving this mammal to extinction. Large-scale trafficking is driven by a belief that pangolin scales have magical and curative properties and demand for their meat. When mixed with bark from certain trees, the scales are thought to neutralize witchcraft and evil spirits. If buried near a man’s door they are said to give an interested woman power over him. The smoke from their scales is thought to improve cattle health, keep lions away, and cure ailments like nose-bleeds. Although their scales are made of keratin—the same substance that makes up human hair and nails—they are in high demand in certain Asian countries where the scales are believed to cure illnesses ranging from cancer to asthma, and their meat is considered a delicacy. In some areas, tribes believe a sighting of this scaly mammal indicates there will be a drought and the only way to prevent it is by killing the animal.

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