Temminck's ground pangolin } Manis temminckii
Chinese pangolin } Manis pentadactyla
Sunda pangolin } Manis javanica
Indian pangolin } Manis crassicaudata
Philippine pangolin } Manis culionensis
Long-tailed pangolin } Manis tetradactyla
Tree pangolin } Manis tricuspis
Giant pangolin } Manis gigantea

FAMILY: Manidae

DESCRIPTION: Pangolins are mammals but are uniquely covered from head to tail with large, geometric scales made of keratin. Pangolins range in weight from just 4 pounds to a record 70 pounds. Pangolins are primarily nocturnal, and when frightened, they curl into a tight ball, exposing the sharp edges of their scales to any would-be predators — a defense effective even against large cats like lions.

HABITAT: Pangolins live in a wide variety of habitats and can dwell on the ground or in the forest canopy.

RANGE: Pangolins were once distributed widely across much of China, southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, as well as sub-Saharan Africa. However, pangolins are now rare in much of China and southeast Asia due to extensive poaching.

BREEDING: These creatures are solitary animals that meet only to mate. They are slow maturing, reaching sexual maturity in two years, and they typically produce only one young at a time. Infant pangolins can be seen riding on the base of their mother's tail.

LIFE CYCLE: The lifespan of pangolins is unknown.

FEEDING: Pangolins prey on ants and termites, using their strong foreclaws to break apart insect nests and mounds. They then lap up their prey with their long, sticky tongues, which can be as long as their whole bodies.

THREATS: Pangolins are threatened by poaching to satisfy human demand for their scales, which are believed to congeal blood and promote lactation in Asian medicine, and their meat, which is considered a delicacy in China. It is estimated that 1 million pangolins have been taken from the wild to satisfy this trade over the past decade. Pangolins also suffer from habitat destruction.

POPULATION TREND:  Due to the species' elusive and nocturnal behavior, few pangolin population estimates exist, but the best available science indicates that all eight species are in serious decline. In a 2014 assessment, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated that if current poaching levels continue, the two most imperiled pangolin species — the Chinese and Sunda pangolins—will decline by up to 80 percent to 90 percent over the next two decades. The IUCN has projected that the Philippine, Indian, long-tailed and tree pangolins will decline by about 50 percent over the next 20 years, and that the giant and Temminck's pangolins will decline by about 30 percent in the next 30 years.

Pangolin photo   Darren Bradley