Possible Ecological Effects of Trafficking Pangolins

 I loved reading about the pangolins.  They are incredibly interesting creatures. They are scaly mammals akin to modern day dinosaurs, described as dog dragons.  They are as if something straight out of science fiction.  This makes it hard for me to accept that they are the most trafficked mammals in the world.  How can people accept such a unique creature possibly disappearing from the Earth?  They are practically invincible in wildlife but we are their only threat for the very bizarre reasons of being a delicacy and unverified medicinal purposes.  It seems despite their rarity the trafficking is done for economic incentives while ignoring the possible ecological effects for the future.   There is evidence that ants eat the rubber trees because of the small number of pangolins.  This is only one ecological effect. So little is known about the creature there could be several more ecological consequences to their trafficking. We need to preserve this creature not only because of how fascinating it is, but to uncover more of it’s scientific mystery and discover what it could possibly to for ecology and humanity as a whole. 

Life Cycle of a Pangolin

One of the many reasons why pangolins are in danger of becoming extinct is due to their unusual life cycle.  Pangolins only have a single offspring a year. Once about month old it will catch a ride on the mother’s back as she goes about her day. At about three months old the pup is independent enough to find own food but will continue to live with the mother until a year old. This means that essentially for a year these two are functioning as a unit.

The number of offsprings would not matter as much if pangolins reached sexual maturity at the average age but it takes them 5-7 yeas. This means that the chances of survival for the species is much lower than other similar animals.

The average life expectancy of a pangolin is about 20 years which for a female pangolin would mean approximately 13-15 possible offsprings. Even with the predators they meet in the wild - leopards and hyenas - their survival rate is already reduced. With humans in the mix they barely have a chance to make it before they come extinct.


Pangolins: Illegal Consumption of an Endangered Species

By now, I have become quite fond of this scaly creature known as the pangolin. It reminds me of a larger, ant and termite eating, more secretive version of my second grade hamster, Marty. Like Marty, the pangolin enjoys keeping to itself, waking at dusk to begin perusing for some grub. After much dark and secretive wandering, they return to home to burrow and rest after an evening spent filling their bellies. Unlike Marty, who loved his burrow, and who only woke up by the time I was in full shut-eye mode, pangolins are illegally hunted for their meat and scales. Granted, Marty was a  fraction of the size of pangolins and an entirely domesticated animal, still I could not imagine anyone hunting that little, black fur ball. What makes poaching a pangolin so much more devastating is that they are an endangered species protected under national legislation. Their meat is considered a delicacy throughout Asia, India, and Thailand. Furthermore, their scales are used in traditional eastern medicine causing the demand for the pangolin to be ever present.

Now, I loved Marty, but hamsters are definitely not on the protected list under national legislation. Further, he was comfortable in his glass cage, running on his metal wheel and munching on seeds and nuts that he was fed. I cleaned his cage, let him roam in his exercise ball and made sure his cage was odorless and spotless. Marty was okay in captivity. Unlike Marty, the pangolin's survival rate in captivity is at a shockingly low rate due to their inability to digest the food they are given. Along with digestive issues, the stress is such that their survival rate radically diminishes with each day spent in captivity. Although pangolins are an endangered species, there has been little research done on these mammals. Pangolins are poorly understood because they cannot be extensively researched in captivity and are hard to track and record in their natural habitat because of their nocturnal and private demeanor.

You are probably wondering why I chose to compare Marty, my furry hamster, to the pangolin, a wild, scaly anteater. You have heard of hamsters, know their eating habits, where they live, and probably even had one as a school pet. Do you think hamsters are important to your ecosystem? Do they play a vial role in the ecosystem of your home, classroom, pet shop? They provide entertainment, lessons on responsibility and even a friendship. However, Marty and his hamster buddies do little outside the realm of simply being a pet. Yet, we know and want to protect them from dirty cages, disease, predators (Sam the cat). In other words, we care.

Now, let us look at pangolins...They are necessary and vital to the ecosystem through the regulation of ants and termites that threaten plants, trees, crops and buildings. Why aren't we doing more to protect them? Why aren't we finding ways to study them more extensively? If poachers can hunt and sell thousands of pangolins for their meat and scales, surely there is a way we can find a way to learn more about them. We need to learn more, to develop our understanding and begin to care for something so wonderful and vital to the ecosystem.

Below are articles about Pangolins, one in particular highlighting the latest seized pangolin scales in Vietnam.




Black Market China: The Demand for Pangolins

China’s Black Market poses a serious threat to animals around the globe, by illegally supplying exotic animals in respond to the demand for them. One of these threatened animals currently being poached and sold in the Chinese Black market are pangolins, a scaly, clawed mysterious creature about the size as a house cat. Havoscope.com, a website for Global Black Market information lists pangolin meat as costing $300 per kilogram, and pangolin scales as $3,000 per kilogram. Where does this demand come from?

Pangolin (Gaetan Lee) Tags: london history scale animal museum mammal stuffed december natural scales plates creature 2009 manis anteater pangolin scaly manidae lpate
One of the biggest reasons for the demand for pangolins in China is that their scales are considered to have great medicinal effects. Pangolin scales are rich in keratin, the same protein found in human nails and hair. For this reason, false information stating that ground pangolin scales may help cure ailments like certain types of cancer and asthma. To make matters worse, the growing population in China has also led to a growth in the demand for these scales, which so many believe to have the cure to serious health issues.

A second, possibly more disturbing reason for the demand for pangolins on the Black Market is that they are considered a sought-out delicacy in Chinese and other Asian cuisines. Pangolins are traded frozen and alive, sometimes mixed with snakes and other reptiles to more smoothly pass through the market, and sold to restaurants for a high price. John Sutter, a columnist for CNN traveled to Vietnam and visited a restaurant rumored to prepare pangolin as a dish. He reported seeing a “wild animal” section near the back of the menu, a picture of a live pangolin, and prices. He was told he would have to purchase a whole pangolin at $350 per kilo, and with the smallest pangolin the restaurant had being five kilos, he’d be expected to pay at least $1,750 for his meal. While he did not order a pangolin, he interviewed several Vietnamese citizens who had eaten them before. Pangolins are said to be one of the most expensive meats in Asia, and according to several reports they will always be demanded if their Black Market trade cannot be stopped.

Both of these reasons for the demand of pangolins in Asia can be combated with education and other conservation efforts currently being funded, planned, and implemented.

To learn more about and help these efforts, take a look at these helpful resources:




Pangolin Classification and Population

There are several different species of Pangolins around the world.  According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, there are eight different types of Pangolins under the Manidae family.  Most of them are classified as “Near Threatened,” “Endangered,” or “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN.  Pangolin populations have been noticeably decreasing in population, with suspected declines of up to 50% over the last 15 years.

Exact population levels are unknown for Pangolins.  They are very reclusive, and their nocturnal nature makes them extremely difficult to track for a comprehensive population estimate.  In recent years, growing concern over Pangolin trafficking and noticeable population decline have prompted research to verify their population, but no complete data has been finalized yet.  Initial studies have revealed that Asian species of Pangolins are declining in population at a more rapid rate than other species of Pangolins.

For more information on Pangolin classification and population, visit these websites:

International Union for Conservation of Nature

African Wildlife Foundation

Pet Pangolins: Are They Better Off?

"Pangolins for sale,” and “Pangolins as pets.” These are the two top suggested results when typing “Pangolin” into Google’s search bar. What does this say? Instead of searches related to the ongoing threat that illegal trade in Asia poses to Pangolins, it seems that online searchers may be more concerned about getting one for themselves to keep as home pets. One might suggest that this is a good thing however, that these pangolins are being kept in a safe home with an owner that will most likely care for its well-being – rather than being poached, killed, and eaten by consumers involved in the illegal trade business currently thriving in Asia. But is that really true? Are pangolins better off themselves as pets? A quick look into a pangolin’s natural lifestyle may prove otherwise. 

To begin with, pangolins are an insectivorous, toothless animal which feed on insects such as ants or termites… sometimes up to 200,000 insects a day depending on the size and species of pangolin! Unlike conventional pet food, I would imagine that keeping a rather large supply of ant-sized insects for pangolin food around the home might prove troublesome, which may lead to pangolin owners substituting in foods that are unnatural to a pangolin’s diet.

One of the most marked characteristics of the pangolin are its large, curved claws used naturally for digging through ant hills and tearing off tree bark. In a home-setting though, how can the pangolin continue to do what it was naturally meant to do? Digging is the pangolin’s livelihood! I cannot imagine too many residential settings in which a pangolin can still be a pangolin in this regard. Another noticeable characteristic of these animals are their small eyes and ears, which contribute very poor senses of sight and hearing. Pangolins make up for this with their exceptionally keen sense of smell, which can be incredibly helpful in the wild… but not so much in a human home where smells are foreign, changing, and often masked by odor-control chemicals. In addition, pangolins often use special anal glands to secrete a pungent territorial scent which aids their sense of smell, but are often removed by their owners to avoid stinky furniture and carpets, as well as being sprayed by their frightened pet.

Finally, pet pangolin owners are not likely to breed their pangolins, or at least not as frequently and safely as zoos might through conservation efforts. This only further contributes to the dying off of their already endangered population. So, the question remains: are they better off? Are they better off being poached and killed today, or sold as a pet and die later after living unnaturally in an unsuitable habitat?

If you prefer a third, more helpful option, check out these great resources:

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Pangolins – The Most Trafficked Animal On Earth

Pangolins are currently one of the most trafficked animals on the planet. In 2011, an estimated 8,700-12,500 were seized by authorities for illegal trafficking as reported by TRAFFIC and the Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network.  It is estimated authorities only detect 20% of illegal wildlife trafficking on the black market, which means the total number of Pangolins trafficked in 2011 could be as high as 43,800 to 62,800 Pangolins. 

Because of the extremely high illegal trafficking rate, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has restricted Pangolins as a zero annual export for specimens removed from the wild and traded for primarily commercial purposes .  Even with this restriction on the trafficking of Pangolins, they have become extremely rare, making them all the more valuable to poachers. Authorities in many countries have struggled to control the excessive trafficking, which has resulted in the steep decline of the Pangolin population across the world.  

For more information on Pangolin trafficking, visit these websites:

International Union for Conservation of Nature

The Project Pangolin

Pangolins: Mystery Creature

Pangolins might look like an ancestor to the dinosaur with its uniquely scaly body. To my surprise pangolins are actually mammals. Before reading this article on CNN change the list program by John D. Sutter, I have never heard of pangolins. I found this article to be incredibly interesting and eye opening especially at the point in the article that expressed “Pangolins could go extinct before most people realize it exists”.  This one sentence stuck with me throughout the reading of pangolins. There were so many eye opening facts about pangolins. One of which being the price of pangolins. From hunters, traders, and restaurants, pangolins range from $22 to $350 per kilo for their scales, blood, and meat. The fact that pangolins are trafficked more than tigers and rhinos put together is also very intriguing. I was pleased to see that the Vietnamese government announced that pangolins are now the highest category of legal protection, banning any use, sale or possession of live or dead pangolin. The maximum penalty is caught with a pangolin is $25,000 or seven years in prison. This shows everyone the severity of the issue. There are many things that justify the use of pangolins; however, I believe that the lack of knowledge of pangolins is a much bigger problem. Until more information is found out about this creature and it’s ecological benefit, trafficking of pangolins must be halted. I believe that educating everyone about this issue is very important for the health and well-being of pangolins. From my understanding from the reading and video, people have no clue that pangolins are going extinct and educating individuals would be the first step in helping the pangolins in the wild.

Here is a PDF article I found that has information about pangolins in captivity and their diet.

(Copy and paste this link into a tab and it will download a PDF file). 

Pangolins - misunderstood and mistreated

There are many misconceptions about pangolins. Despite not having any external ears, teeth and being covered with scales they are not reptile. The scales, which make up for 15% of its body weight, are made of keratin like human hair. And just like hair the scales which are overlapping each other like artichoke leaves grow throughout the life of the animal. 

Pangolin Model

They have quite good hearing but rely mostly on their sense of smell to locate food (termites and ants). Because of their unusual look pangolins are seen as as magical creatures whose ground up scales allow to neutralize witchcraft, overcome evil spirits, control wild animals and weather. In some African countries they are hunted for their meat.