The Pangolin Story
The Pangolin is a solitary, primarily nocturnal animal, they are easily recognized by their full armour of large, plate-like scales. A startled pangolin will cover its head with its front legs, exposing its scales to any potential predator. If touched or grabbed it will roll up completely into a ball, while the sharp scales on the tail can be used to lash out.
Pangolins are also mammals just like humans, giving birth to live offspring and feeding them milk. The Pangolin uses its powerful front claws to dig open termite mounds and uses its long sticky tong to catch ants and termites which it feeds on, although they supplement this diet with other invertebrates.
There are eight species of pangolins in the world, four of these are found on the African continent, namely the Black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), White-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), Giant Ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) and Temminck’s Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii). The remaining four types of pangolin are found in Asia these are the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla).
The type of Pangolin found in Zimbabwe is the Ground Pangolin, these can weigh up to 20kg.
In terms of the lifespan, it is unknown how long pangolins can live in the wild, though pangolins have reportedly lived as
long as twenty years in captivity.
Male and female pangolins are sexually dimorphic: the sexes differ in weight. In most species, males are 10-50 percent heavier than females, while Indian pangolins can be up to 90 percent heavier. Pangolins reach sexual maturity at two years, and most pangolins give birth to a single offspring, though two and three young have been reported in the Asian species. Gestation periods range from 65-70 days (Indian pangolin) to 139 days (White-bellied and Temminck pangolins). When born, pangolins are about six inches long and weigh about 12 ounces (.75 lbs). Their scales are soft and pale, and begin to harden by the second day. Pangolin mothers nurture their young in nesting burrows. A mother will protectively roll around her baby when sleeping or if threatened. Babies nurse for three to four months, but can eat termites and ants at one month. At that time the infant begins to accompany the mother outside of the burrow, riding on the base of her tail as she forages for insects.
Pangolin is an endangered species and the problem we have is that this species is being poached with some believing that the scales of a pangolin can be used for medicinal purposes, however this is not the case as the scales of a Pangolin are made from Keratin, the same fibrous protein used to make fingernails and hair.
Globally all eight pangolin species are increasingly threatened with extinction, with two species listed as Critically Endangered, two as Endangered and four as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Burgeoning illegal international trade, increased local trade, habitat loss and a lack of awareness have been found to be the main threats facing pangolins at present.
We undertake public awareness, train law enforcement and judiciary personnel, conduct research, and rehabilitate pangolins that have been confiscated from the illegal trade. We also engage with other organisations and governments throughout Africa to highlight the plight of pangolins, raise awareness of their conservation status and educate them as to the need for conserving pangolins, as well as implementing conservation actions. Many of our activities are not covered by research grants and we rely on sponsors and donations to continue our work. Donations are used to train law enforcement and judiciary personnel, rehabilitate confiscated pangolins, raise public awareness and further engage with African role-players to increase the conservation status of pangolins across Africa.