Sub Saharan Africa

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Clade: Synapsida
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Pholidota

The Pangolin is a rather odd-looking creature, though it may look similar to an anteater or an armadillo, they are in fact not related to either. The animal is unique and is the only known mammal to grow large protective scales on their backs, the scales are made of keratin, keratin is also what human nails are made up of. Such scales prove effective against the majority of predators, but sadly their natural defence mechanism fails miserably against their greatest threat: human beings.

Pangolins are located across tropical areas of Africa and South East Asia, the animal uses its keen senses of hearing and smell to hunt down insects on the ground. The Pangolin has an extremely long tongue, which can reach up to 40cm in length, they use their sticky covered tongues to locate termites in cracks and crevices. The Pangolin has a distinctive way of moving around during the animal’s active hours, as generally nocturnal creatures they sleep through the day wrapped safely in a tight ball. The Pangolin’s name derives from the Malay word ‘penggulung’, meaning ‘roller’.

There are eight species of pangolin, with classifications ranging from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN* Red List. It is not known how many pangolins live in the wild, but infrequent sightings over large areas suggest their numbers are low, with the species being listed as critically endangered.

Unfortunately, Pangolins are victims of horrific, illegal wildlife crime, they have come to be the most trafficked mammal in the world (estimates of illegal trade are over 100,000 animals a year). The animal is mercilessly hunted for its meat and scales, their meat considered a delicacy for many regions and their scales a prized Asian traditional medicine ingredient. Combined with their susceptibility to disease, the destruction of their natural habitats, and the poor success rate of breeding them in captivity, pangolins are likely to become ever-more threatened without significant intervention. *International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Estimated Pangolin trafficking seizures from 2011 to 2016

As today’s Pangolin population is currently unknown it is useful to refer to Pangolin trafficking incidents to gain a clearer understanding of the scale of the Pangolin trafficking issue. Between the years of 2011 and 2016 this graphs shows that around 49,500 seizures were made. However, it is incredibly important to note that this figure is solely an estimate based on known seizures and is not representative of the actual seizure figure between the years of 2011 and 2016. The actual figure is expected to be much higher.

The graph above actually indicates that Pangolin trafficking is increasing, or at least authorities are become more efficient with their seizure methods. In 2011 the number of known and reported Pangolin seizures stood at around 8,650, whereas today that figure stands at 10,034.

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