The Past


There are eight species of Pangolins, four in Africa and four in Asia. Sometimes known as scaly anteaters, sloths and armadillos. The order Pholidota was the sister taxon to Xenarthral(anteaters), but recent genetic evidence indicates their closet living relatives are the Carnivoranes.The split between the two is estimated to have happened between 87-79 Million years ago

The physical appearance of a pangolin is marked by large overlapping scales, which are made from keratin, the same material as our fingernails. It is these scales which are highly sort after in traditional Chinese medicine, for the belief that they have medicinal properties and that their ground-up scales can stimulate lactation or cure cancer or asthma. In the past decade, many seizures of illegally trafficked pangolin scales and meat have been made. In one incident alone, 10,000 kilos of meat was seized from a Chinese vessel that had run aground in the Philippines.

The first record of pangolin scales being used occurred in,” Variorum of Shennong’s Classic of Materia Medica”, 500 CE, which recommended pangolin scales for protection against ant bites alongside burning the scales as a cure for people crying hysterically during the night. During the Tang Dynasty, 618-907, pangolin scales were also used in recipes to expel evil spirits with a concoction of other herbs and oils. Today, the main use for pangolin scales result from claims they unblock blood clots and promote blood circulation. These false claims explain the demand for pangolin products and why poachers and criminal syndicated take huge risks to catch and sell these majestic creatures.

Pangolins are thought to be nocturnal, but the ones I studied were very much awake during the day. They would set-off and would walk for miles, they had a tracker system attached to their scales for research and protection, they walked quickly, quite often on their hind legs, the fore legs hunched-up a bit like a kangaroo, but, not hopping. They were searching for food, which is exclusively ants, which they then demolish. Pangolins dig burrows with their three long curved claws on some of their 10 toes, they keep their balance with their long broad tails. They have small cone shaped heads with jaws, but, no teeth. Pangolins tongues are extraordinary, it is longer than their bodies, seeing it come-out and enter the nest in search of Ants is amazing, it has a sticky substance which the termites have no chance of avoiding.

There is limited research on their behaviour and social life. They are solitary and only interact for mating, they are good mothers, carrying their babies on their back, and will then slip under the mother for protection. This brings me neatly to the question of the hypothesis of their survival mechanism. The name pangolin comes from the Malay word pengguling, meaning “one who rolls up” which is exactly what happens. Their sight is poor, no external ears, so very little hearing, but they do have a strong sense of smell. So, if danger is smelt or perhaps by habitual sense they just roll up into a ball, which is their defence posture. Sadly, in this state, poachers can easily catch them in nets.