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: