Pangolins are mammals, easily recognised by their unique body cover made of large, overlapping keratin scales. Also called "scaly anteaters" because of their preferred diet, they are shy and harmless and sadly becoming increasingly known as the most trafficked mammal in the world.
Tens of thousands of pangolins are poached every year, killed for their scales for use in traditional Chinese medicine and for their meat.
A pangolin´s reaction to threat is to curl up as a ball and use the sharp scales for protection. While this strategy works well against natural predators, it also makes it very easy for poachers to catch them, as they don´t run away or hide.
In order to reach their prey, pangolins have a very long tongue and distinctive strong curved claws specialized for breaking into ant nests.
There are eight extant species of pangolins. Four are found in Africa and four in Asia.
All 8 species face exponential declining populations because of illegal trade.
- White-bellied Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis)
- Black-bellied Pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla)
- Giant Pangolin (Smutsia gigantea)
- Temminck’s Ground Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii)
- Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla)
- Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)
- Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata)
- Palawan Pangolin (Manis culionensis)
Central African Republic is the only African country where reportedly all 4 African pangolins can be found.
Poaching and illegal trade
Pangolins are considered the most illegally trafficked mammals in the world
All eight species of the shy animal are threatened with extinction.
Pangolins are believed to be tasked
with pest control missions for their environs by controlling the ant and
termite populations. They also keep soil mixed and aerated when they dig for
food or create burrows, improving the nutrient quality of the soil and
promoting decomposition cycles. Abandoned burrows make good homes for other
If the pangolins disappear, so will the ecological balance in their natural habitats, scientists say. The reason is a high demand from Asian markets, where pangolin meat is considered a speciality as well as a symbol of status and the scales are used in traditional medicine. Since the scales are made of keratin – the same material as human fingernails – they do not have any medical effect. For this, hundreds of thousands of pangolins are killed every year.
In the Central African Republic,
we believe that pangolins are still mainly hunted for bushmeat by the local communities. But with the trafficking hotspots in the neighbouring countries, the illegal trade is increasing exponentially, and we need to act urgently.
A crucial part of saving pangolins is to include the communities and sensibilise them of the importance of pangolin conservation.
In the light of the
continued threat posed by the illegal trade, all eight pangolin species were
uplisted to Appendix I at the
Conference of Parties 2017 (CoP2017)of CITES . Species on Appendix I are
considered threatened with extinction and must not be traded other than in
exceptional circumstances. This uplisting reflects the wide acceptance that
populations for all pangolin species are in serious decline, with the
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listing all Asian
pangolin species as either “Critically Endangered” or “Endangered” while the
African species are all listed as “Vulnerable”.
Despite the strengthened global protection for pangolins, the illegal trade is flourishing. In the first quarter of 2019 alone, two gigantic shipments were seized in the ports of Singapore (13 tonnes of scales) and Hong Kong (8 tonnes) and these seizures likely reflect only a fraction of the actual global illegal trade. The ability of pangolins to recover from this level of removal from the wild appears increasingly unlikely.