Pangolins belong to the family Manidae and are likely the world’s scaliest mammal! Being primarily insectivorous, they have adaptations that allow them to seek out their favourite prey species such as ants and termites.
These special abilities include a long, muscular and sticky tongue that allows them to probe for insects deep in anthills and termite mounds, which they efficiently tear open with their sharp and powerful front claws.
Pangolins also possess a relatively long and strong prehensile tail that helps them climb trees. Finally, and perhaps their most distinguishing feature is their large, hardened, plate-like scales that cover most of their bodies (apart from their undersides). These scales are modified hair fused together that act as an armour. When threatened, as a defense mechanism, these pangolins curl into a ball, exposing their tough armour, while hiding their softer undersides.
Asia is home to four species of pangolins, and they are:
- Malayan/Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica)*
- Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla)*
- Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata)
- Philippine Pangolin (Manis culionensis)
*Most commonly poached and traded
These pangolins are in a predicament! All four species are threatened and listed under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Both the Sunda and Chinese Pangolin are ‘Critically Endangered’, while the Indian and Philippine Pangolin are ‘Endangered’. Furthermore, all four species are also listed under Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), with a ‘zero quota’ export ban that has been in place since 2000.
This ban means that it is illegal to take specimens from the wild to be traded for commercial purposes. Despite being protected, Pangolin populations are declining at a fast pace.
Poaching for Illegal Wildlife Trade internationally remains the primary threat to the Asian pangolin species. More than 30,000 pangolins were seized between 2000 and 2007 across East and Southeast Asia, most of them bound for China via Thailand or Vietnam.
Some of the major factors driving this illegal industry include the use of pangolin scales in Traditional Medicine. This is based on a mistaken belief that pangolin scales are able to cure human ailments such as asthma, eczema, rheumatism, stomach disorders and cancer. These scales made from keratin – the same protein found in our hair and fingernails. There is a lack of proof, scientifically, that pangolin scales are of any medical value to justify the senseless killing of these species.
Confiscation of pangolin and products has risen drastically over the last couple of years. Just this week Hong Kong Custom authorities confiscated 40 bags containing over one ton of pangolin scales from a shipping container that departed Kenya. This was the latest of two confiscations in Hong Kong in the six months. The first one in October 2014 led to a seizure of 320kg of scales.
Sadly, pangolins are also considered as a delicacy in some Chinese and Vietnamese cultures and used for Food Consumption. In 2013, 2000 frozen pangolins (10,000kg of pangolin meat) were seized from a Chinese vessel that ran aground in the Philippines.
Finally, the rapid Habitat Destruction and deterioration that results from the clearing of forests to make way for human land uses such as agriculture, logging and development, has led to the loss of pangolin populations in the region. Furthermore, land management practices such as pesticide use and the installation of electric fences often cause the death of ground dwelling pangolin species.
Our Asian pangolins will be driven to extinction if effective and urgent actions are not taken to protect them.
The Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund (WRSCF) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) have supported pangolin conservation through the funding of research projects on the Sunda Pangolin in Singapore and the Palawan Pangolin in Philippines. The data collected from these studies help us better understand these little-known creatures and plan effective conservation measures for their future.
WRS and TRAFFIC organised a Pangolin Trade Workshop in 2008 to bring together key decision-makers on legislation and enforcement from 12 Asian countries and territories to form an action plan to halt the hunting and illegal trade of pangolins in the region.
In 2013, WRS hosted the 1st IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group Conservation Conference to bring together researchers and conservation practitioners engaged in pangolin research around the world to devise tangible actions that can measurably improve the conservation predicament of pangolins worldwide.
Discussions during this conference have resulted in a Pangolin Conservation Action Plan. Following up on this Conservation Action Plan, WRS also spearheaded the formation of Singapore Pangolin Working Group and hosted the first meeting on the group in August 2014.
The Night Safari is also managing a captive breeding programme for the Sunda Pangolins. Pangolins are difficult to keep in zoos because their specialized natural diet. The Night Safari is proud to have formulated a special diet for our pangolins and has been successful in breeding them. A male Sunda pangolin was born in July 2014 in the Night Safari and is healthy and doing well. We hope to eventually breed and release them to boost the wild population in Singapore.
1. Don’t buy products made from pangolins
Poaching for pangolin scales and meat is the primary threat to pangolin survival. By purchasing such products, you play a role in helping to stop the illegal wildlife trade and the senseless killing of pangolins for human consumption.
2. Spread the message
Help us increase public awareness and curb the demand for pangolin products. When the demand stops, the killing stops too.
3. Practice the 3 “R”s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
Habitat loss is another big threat to the pangolin. Help save the forest by actively reducing, reusing and recycling in your daily life.