Save the Pangolins
The only mammals on earth to be covered with scales, pangolins are renowned for their unique anatomy. Unfortunately, pangolin meat is also considered to be a delicacy in China and Vietnam and their scales are widely traded for use in traditional Asian medicine – where they are believed to yield medicinal properties that can cure a variety of ailments.
This monetary incentive has led to innumerable pangolins being taken from the wild, even though it is illegal to poach them, and sold on the black market. The IUCN SSC Specialist Pangolin Group estimates that, despite the reduction in numbers over the past decades, a pangolin is illegally taken from the wild every five minutes.
It is thought that international legislation is not sufficient to protect pangolins because the laws have not been enforced. This is, in part, due to a lack of political will and a lack of funds. Local populations are also not aware or engaged in the drive to conserve these unique animals.
Though poaching is the main threat to these species, habitat loss is also negatively impacting populations in both Asia and Africa, mainly because of deforestation.
The pangolin is believed to be the world’s most trafficked mammal. There are eight species of pangolin – four from Africa and four from Asia – all of which are listed by the IUCN as threatened with extinction.
Of the eight species of pangolin:
Three are listed as critically endangered: Chinese pangolin (M. pentadactyla), Sunda pangolin (M. javanica) and Philippine pangolin (M. culionensis)
Three are listed as endangered: White-bellied (P. tricuspis), Giant (Smutsia gigantea), Indian (Manis crassicaudata)
Two are listed as vulnerable: Black-bellied (Phataginus tetradactyla) and Temminck’s pangolin (S. temminckii)
Pangolins have a highly specialized diet, relying on ants and termites for their nutrition. Though they are not closely related to anteaters, pangolins occupy a similar ecological niche to these animals. They are important for controlling insect populations; it has been reported that a single pangolin can eat upwards of 70 million insects a year. As such, pangolins have an important role in the control of forest termites and without them, the balance of their delicate ecosystems will tip.
In recent years, pangolins have become a symbol of conservation. These unique, characterful animals have grown famous globally for their unusual looks and worthy plea; more resources and attention are being devoted to their conservation.
Conservation organizations are working to improve our understanding of the pangolin’s ecology and behavior. Pangolins are elusive mammals that wander their habitats alone, mostly at night. They have proven difficult to study but renewed efforts are underway to identify the distribution and ranges of pangolin populations, as well as how their ecosystems can be manipulated to ensure their survival in the wild. Surveys are underway to work out how many pangolins there are in the wild.
Elsewhere, educational initiatives are raising awareness about pangolin conservation amongst local communities and rangers are being trained to help crack down on poaching in high-risk areas. Though the main aim is to stop pangolins from being taken from the wild in the first place, it is also important that rescue centers are given the training and resources necessary to rehabilitate live pangolins that have been seized from illegal traders.
WSO's Activities and Initiatives
The World Sustainability Organization’s Friend of the Earth project provides financial support for Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, a national non-profit organization in Vietnam that was founded on the critical need for more effective solutions to secure a future for Vietnamese wildlife, with special regard to pangolins.
In Vietnam each year, thousands of animals are illegally traded for meat consumption, traditional medicine, pets, and souvenirs. The majority of live animals trafficked, are often dehydrated, nutritionally-stressed, carrying diseases, or have suffered injuries from being trapped and hunted.
Save Vietnam’s Wildlife’s rescue work aims to reduce these threats, by directly targeting known areas of threat to wild populations. We use our media coverage of rescues and releases, to help educate the public, and raise awareness of the impacts of the illegal wildlife trade.
By raising funds and awareness, we are helping Save Vietnam’s Wildlife to feed 9 pangolins in their rescue and rehabilitation center for a month.
Call to action
Help to halt the dramatic decline of these unique mammals by sharing their story.
Use social media to tell the world that it is not OK to consume pangolin meat – these animals need our help.
Sign Friend of the Earth petition to ask pharmaceutical companies to stop trading pangolin’s parts.
Make a donation to support pangolins and raise awareness.