The plight of the pangolin
The planet’s most trafficked mammals, all pangolins are in the shadowlands of extinction. What is it about these solitary, nocturnal, silent and secretive animals that has resulted in their precarious position as the planet’s most poached animals?
If we look to Asia, in particular China and Vietnam, there is an insatiable calling for their scales that are used in traditional medicine. With the near obliteration of all four of Asia’s pangolin species to meet this demand, it is now our four African species that are being targeted.
In Africa, over and above the hundreds and thousands of pangolins that are poached by highly sophisticated Asian syndicates, there are the additional pressures of habitat loss, the bush meat trade and traditional uses in African tribal dress and medicine.
- Pangolins hold the secrets of 85 million years of evolution
- For 1 ton of pangolin scales, an estimated 1 900 pangolins are killed
- In 2018, 48 tons of African pangolin scales from an estimated 91 200 African pangolins, were intercepted by customs in Asia
- In mid-2019, 55.8 tons of intercepted African pangolin scales, the equivalent of about 100 000 African pangolins, had already been reported by the African Pangolin Working Group
- There is one African pangolin taken from the wild every 5 minutes
Pangolins are Earth’s great gardeners
What fundamental environmental role do pangolins play?
The conservationist, Lisa Hywood, described them as ‘Earth’s great gardeners’. Using their large front claws, they dig up and consume millions of ants and termites each year. In so doing, they play a crucial role in controlling the stripping effects of ants and termites on wild environments, while at the same time, turning over the top soil, composting it, and burying seeds for germination.
Pangolin conservation project at Phinda
What is being done at Phinda to protect pangolins?
Breaking news is that we have partnered with the African Pangolin Working Group on a first-of-its-kind project to reintroduce the Temminck’s ground pangolin to a region where it has been locally extinct, bringing the species back home. The animals that have been used to start this initiative have been retrieved from illegal wildlife traders, and rehabilitated by the African Pangolin Working Group.
Intensive daily monitoring, using VHF and UHF/GSM tracking tags which have been attached to the scales on the lower back, is a core element of this research project that has been funded largely by a grant from the Oak Foundation for the next two years, with our Pangolin Conservation Experience supporting the periodic replacement of the tags. (Satellite GPS tags are also being used on a trial basis.)
Research is fundamental to our understanding and protection of this little-known, threatened animal. The data gathered over the course of this project will be fundamental to future endeavours dedicated to reversing the rapid decline of our African species.
In the word of Professor Ray Jansen, Chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group:
“The release of pangolins retrieved out of the illegal wildlife trade into Phinda is not only a monumental achievement for the region, but also a pivotal study to monitor the reintroduction of pangolins into a province that experienced a local extinction of the species a few decades earlier. This groundbreaking project is the first of its kind for the species, and likely for the Order Philodota globally.”
How can you make a difference?
- Participate in our Pangolin Conservation Experience
- Learn and share