Saving Pangolins, our Guardian of the Forest

Pangolins are known as the guardians of the forest—they protect forests from termite destruction, which helps maintain a balanced ecosystem. These little guardians have survived thousands of years of natural changes, but now they are on the verge of extinction due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. More than one million pangolins were brutally murdered for black-market trade in the past 10 years – that is 11 pangolins killed every hour.

Learn more about these adorable animals, why they are being poached, and what we can do to help save them from extinction!

sez-20120323-162526-01067In this picture: A pangolin in the Cuc Phung National Park in Vietnam. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas
Big appetite
Small as they appear, an adult pangolin weighing 6.6 pounds can consume more than 0.66 pounds of termites in one meal. Thanks to their big appetites, one pangolin can protect an area as large as 31 football fields (16.5 hectares) from termite destruction.
Pangolins have extremely long tongues – some longer than their own bodies. Their tongue is like a lint roller, by effectively picking up food within its sweeping proximity, then the tongue rolls back and sends the food into the stomach.

Impenetrable defense
A pangolin’s scales weigh approximately 20 percent of its total mass. These solid scales are their “weapon”. When threatened, pangolins will quickly curl up into a tight ball and tucking face under tail, with overlapping scales serving as a tough armor.
sez-20120323-170816-01013In this picture: A two-year-old Malayan pangolin (Manis javanica) with its mother at the Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas.
xsb-2016-08-18-104652-csj002In this picture: Shown are six Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica) confiscated by the police in Guangzhou, China. Photo: Xiao Shibai.
Being eaten to extinction
Pangolins are the world’s only scale mammals. Their scales protect them, yet demand for their scales is what could lead to their extinction. Many Asian cultures incorrectly believe the scales have medicinal and magical properties.
A myth developed that pangolin scales can “open up” blockages in the body such as clogged arteries and cure a suite of aliments, which is why the black market is thriving.
Science of scales
Modern research has shown the main component of pangolin scales is beta keratin, similar to our fingernails and the scales have no medicinal value. However, it was determined that wild animals, such as pangolins, are carriers of copious amounts of parasites and unknown viruses, which, once ingested, may cause severe infections.
The wholesale price of one pangolin can be worth more than RMB 100,000 (around HK$112,700), and the price keeps increasing from retailer to retailer until the pangolin is served as a dish.
北京市一家中药店内贩售的穿山甲鳞片。In this picture: Pangolin scales for sale at a pharmacy in Beijing, China. Photo: Shibai Xiao.
Sunda pangolin Manis javanica Singapore Night Safari, Singapore *CaptiveIn this picture: A pangolin is seen on Singapore’s night safari. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas.
Saving the endangered pangolins
Of the eight pangolins species, four are found in Asia and four in Africa. All eight species are listed under Appendix I (threatened with extinction) in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES). Pangolin populations in China, Vietnam and Southeast Asia are dwindling.
Awareness is critical
Recognizing the need for drastic action to protect pangolins, TNC is working with local and international partners to raise public awareness on saving pangolins and fighting against its illegal trade. In 2016, we partnered with WildAid to produce a PSA featuring Chinese celebrity Angelababy. Click here to watch the video.
xsb-2016-11-30-173036-csj043 (1)In this picture: A worker at the Shenzhen Wildlife Rescue Center with a pangolin that was saved from an illegal trade. Photo: Xiao Shibai.
Spreading the word
We are also working with renowned wildlife photographers Suzi Eszterhas, Xiao Shibai and Jak Wonderly to capture pangolins’ precious moments in wildlife rescue centers in China, Singapore and Vietnam. These photographs have become important assets for our public education and engagement programs.
Saving the endangered pangolins
Craving for more cute pangolin photos?
sez-20120324-063437-01078_2A pangolin at the Cuc Phung National Park in Vietnam. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas.