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Facts about Pangolins...

When I saw David Dancey-Wood’s drawing of a pangolin for the first time, I had no idea what it was. It just looked so strange to me. The pangolin drawing was brilliant though, I knew right away that this was going to be a very popular print, and it has become a favourite print amongst collectors of David Dancey-Wood’s limited edition prints.

Pangolin, a drawing by David Dancey-Wood

Pangolin drawing by David Dancey-Wood

If I were to ask you what the world’s most trafficked animal was, you might assume that the answer would be elephants, rhinos, or perhaps even tigers. These animals have rightly and justifiably had the conservation spotlight shone on them for decades, but in actual fact, it’s an animal that you may possibly never have heard of because this animal is a pangolin.

What is a pangolin? (Sometimes also known as the Scaly Anteater)

Photo of a pangolin on the grass

Pangolin on the grass

Photo courtesy of Gerald Cubitt

The name, pangolin is derived from the Malay word “pengguling”, which loosely translated can mean “something that rolls up.” When a pangolin is attacked, it rolls up in a ball, similarly to that of a hedgehog or armadillo, it’s after this defensive trait, that the pangolin gets its name.

Pangolins are one of the world’s most peculiar-looking animals, uniquely covered in scales – many mistake Pangolins for, armadillos, or lizards. In fact, a pangolin is a mammal.

Pangolin photo head shot

Pangolin head and snout

Photo courtesy of Gerald Cubitt

Pangolins have small heads and jaws that lack any teeth, one of their main characteristics is that they have long sticky tongues that help them to eat. The tongue when fully extended can be up to half the length of the animal's head and body. Pangolins have poor vision, so they locate their food, through their strong sense of smell.

​What does a pangolin eat?

Pangolin’s eat insects, choosing to feast on termites, ants, and other small insects. They use their tongues to tremendous effect, using it to maneuver and reach down into holes or nests to fetch their pray. Some pangolins have been known to have tongues that have been up to 16 inches in length. It has been recorded that a pangolin will eat well over a million insects during its lifetime.

How big is a pangolin?

Pangolins can live in a variety of different habitats including forests, deserts, and grassland. The largest pangolin is the giant pangolin. It can weigh around 33kg with it being around 180 cm long. At the other end, the smallest species, the black-bellied pangolin can weigh just 3.6kg.

How many species of pangolin are there and where do pangolins live?

In total there are eight different species of pangolin, all of which can be found across

Asia and Africa, these are;

Asian pangolins:

  • Chinese pangolin – Critically Endangered

  • Sunda pangolin – Critically Endangered

  • Palawan pangolin  – Critically Endangered

  • Indian pangolin  – Endangered


African pangolins:

  • White-bellied pangolin – Endangered

  • Giant pangolin – Endangered

  • Ground pangolin – Vulnerable

  • Black-bellied pangolin – Vulnerable

Photo of a Pangolin curled up

Pangolin curled up

Photo courtesy of Darren Pietersen

Unique Scales

What makes pangolin unique is that they are marked by large scales. The pangolin's scaled body is similar in appearance to a pine cone. These scales can account for 20% of the pangolin's body weight. The scales develop as the pangolin ages, they are soft on newborns but harden as the animal ages. Scales are made of keratin, the same material as a human’s fingernails and hair.

When attacked the pangolin will curl up into a ball and will use its scales as armor, and the scales are sharp, providing extra defense from predators – they have been known to be able to withstand a lion’s bite.


Why are pangolins endangered?

Pangolin scales are used in nearly 500 prescriptions within traditional Chinese medicine, many of which date back centuries. The meat of a pangolin is also considered an Asian delicacy.


These two factors are what have made the pangolin the world’s most trafficked non-human mammal. The risk of pangolins being completely wiped out was so large that in 2016, international commercial trade in pangolins was banned.


But despite these protections and new laws, the numbers of pangolins being trafficked have increased. According to an article in The National Geographic, Sarah Stoner, director of intelligence at the Wildlife Justice Commission stated that the rise in

Pangolin trafficking in recent years is now “on a completely different level.”


Another key factor that has caused the rise in pangolin trafficking levels, is the banning of the Chinese ivory trade by the Chinese government. Due to this ban in 2018, the price of ivory plummeted, and Stoner suspects that wildlife criminals who used to sell ivory are now selling pangolin scales to help maintain profit margins. “We used to see a higher proportion of ivory and a small amount of pangolin scales, but that’s completely shifted, now we see a small amount of ivory and large amounts of pangolin scales.”



Fun facts about pangolins

  • Pangolins don’t have teeth, so to help aid with their digestion they have pebbles and keratin spines in their stomach to help digest food

  • Pangolins live in either trees or in underground burrows

  • Pangolins are the only animal in the world that is covered in scales from head to toe

  • Similarly to skunks, pangolins can omit a horrible smell to deter predators

  • They are nocturnal animals and scientists don’t know how many pangolins exist in the world although it is acknowledged that numbers are declining.


Article written by Jack Hartman, with intro by Wildlife Sketches

Photo of a Pangolin uncurling

Pangolin uncurling itself

Photo courtesy of Darren Pietersen

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