These fascinating creatures – which comprise eight extant species living through much of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – are also known as scaly anteaters, due to the large, protective keratin scales that cover their skin. Although genetically unrelated, they are similar in appearance to the armadillo of the Americas, and both animals are capable of rolling into a tight ball to protect themselves from predators.
Pangolins are insectivorous, using their strong claws and long tongues (which can reach up to 16” in larger species) to prey mostly on anthills and termite mounds. A single individual can consume between 140 and 200 grams of insects per day. Most pangolins are nocturnal and live generally solitary lives, which have garnered them a reputation as being shy, secretive creatures. Despite being widespread, sightings are rare, and in some places tradition tells that spotting one will bring you seven years of good luck! Our MD, Will Bolsover, was lucky enough to have such a sighting during his most recent trip to Botswana. In Chinese folklore, pangolins are said to be able to travel the world undetected using a network of subterranean tunnels.
Unfortunately, the pangolin’s place in Asian and African folklore has contributed to a sharp decline in their population. Their keratin scales – a unique feature among mammals – as well as their blood, body parts and even unborn foetuses have made them a target for the illegal wildlife trade, as they are thought to possess medicinal qualities. Pangolin meat is also sought as a delicacy in some parts of Asia, particularly China and Vietnam. As a result, these relatively little-known creatures are in fact the most trafficked animal in the world, even more so than charismatic megafauna like rhinos, elephants and leopards.
Pangolin Fast Facts
Scientific Family: Manidae
Distribution: 17 countries in Asia and 31 countries in Africa
Suggested Itinerary: Dzanga-Sangha Gorilla Tracking Safari or tailor-made safaris throughout much of Africa, including Botswana and South Africa