Pangolins are one of the more unique and peculiar animals that exist today. This mammal is prehistoric and has been around for 80 million years. In addition to its extremely tough armour of scales, the pangolin has evolved some amazing and surprising abilities during its long history.
Contrary to what their appearance may suggest, several species of pangolins live in trees, hanging from branches using their giant tails. They can swim long distances and dig 40 metre burrows. Their habitat is highly varied, including savannah grasslands, dense woodlands, flooded, tropical and sub-tropical forest areas. Quite adorably, baby pangolins ride on their mothers’ tails for around three months.
To feed they use long claws to tear into insect nests before using tongues longer than their body to lap up ants and termites. This unique combination of natural talents allows them to consume 70 million insects per year. This regulates social insect populations, which is vital to the sustainability of many ecosystems.
Due to their shy and nocturnal nature, they are difficult to research and there is limited knowledge of pangolins. There is still so much we have yet to learn about these animals – we are only just starting to understand their secretive lifestyle.
The pangolin is about as aggressive as its bipedal waddle makes it look. It is completely toothless, solitary and its mechanism of defence is to roll up into a ball and wait until the danger goes away.
While this has proven effective against most predators for millions of years, when it comes to defending themselves from poachers it has had the opposite effect; when pangolins feel threatened, they don’t run or attack – they stop and curl up. This means guns, traps or training aren’t needed to poach a pangolin – they can simply be picked up.
Of the eight species of pangolin (which make up an entire taxonomic order) four are native to Africa, and four to Asia. Two are classed as Endangered and two as Critically Endangered, and all species are believed to be in decline. This is primarily due to poaching.