How many pangolins are left in the world?

The exact number of pangolins is a mystery. However, the abuse is not. How can we help pangolins?

Table of Contents

Imagine a cold, winter night. Brrr! How do you sleep under the blanket? All curled up, almost like a ball, right? Now, imagine a mammal doing the same, but in defense, and it’s got scales.

A pangolin curled up in a ball. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Rachad sanoussi

That’s a pangolin for you, in a defensive position. However, curling up can only help pangolins against predators in the wild. The scales are little protection against the most ruthless of all life forms—humans. Pangolins are the most trafficked animal. Trafficking, in simple terms, is an illegal business. Pangolins are poached  for their scales. Moreover, their meat is considered a luxury food in China and Vietnam.

 

And so, we need to face this question: how many pangolins are left in the world? And an even bigger question: will the coming generations get the chance to appreciate these beautiful creatures?

To save an organism, one must be able to recognize it. Without further ado, let’s make a profile for the scaled mammal:

Size: 12 to 39 inches

 

Weight: 4.4 to 7 lbs

 

Identification: Scaly mammal with a long snout and tail. Brown in color.

 

Habitat: Eight known species of pangolin live in the wild. Four of them live in Asia, and four in Africa.

 

Diet: They eat ants and termites with the help of their long sticky tongue.

 

Conservation Status : Vulnerable to Critically Endangered

 

Fun Fact: They have 72 vertebrae —the most among any mammal.

The pangolin species living in Asia are the Indian pangolin, Philippine pangolin, Sunda pangolin, and Chinese pangolin.

 

The pangolin species in Africa are the black-bellied pangolin, white-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin, and Temminck’s ground pangolin.

How many pangolins are left in the world?

Providing an estimate for the population of pangolins is a tricky business. As pangolins are shy and active only at night, it is very difficult to gauge the number of pangolins in the wild. However, all studies agree that all eight species of pangolin require protection. The booming number of scales and captures seized from traffickers provides some idea about the population. Let us see how.

How many pangolins are trafficked every year?

If you have read from the start of this article till here, it might be possible that in that time a pangolin has been trafficked and its scales are already up for sale. Over a million pangolins were trafficked in the last decade. Annually, over 200,000 pangolins are trafficked to meet the demands of trade. Firstly, their meat is a delicacy in China and Vietnam. Secondly, traditional Chinese medicine uses their scales. Moreover, the leather industry uses its scales. The demand for scales has boomed over the past few years. Clearly, the rise of trade over online platforms aids the sale of pangolin skins. As a result, the threat of trafficking has swelled. Poaching is higher because of the increase in trade. In fact, the trade is worldwide, with buyers residing in the United States, too.

How can I save pangolins?

Did you know that we have a day for pangolins? We observe World Pangolin Day on the 18th of February. Since the population of pangolins is rapidly dwindling in Asia and Africa, a collective effort can go a long way in saving these amazing creatures. World Pangolin Day can bring people together to stop the unjust menace that pangolins deal with.

As listed by World Wildlife Fund, you can take the following steps to save a pangolin:

 

  • Pledge to save the pangolin. (The WWF pledge is currently unavailable. However, there are multiple other pledges you can sign, which can also be helpful.)
Pangolin Scales
Confiscated bag of pangolin scales. These are sold at high prices for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ D’Cruze N, Singh B, Mookerjee A, Harrington LA, Macdonald DW (2018)

Readability: 62.5

Grade: 7.4

Glossary

Poached: Illegally hunted for skin and other parts for trade

 

Conservation status: The classification of animals as Endangered, Vulnerable, or Least Concern based on the population of the animal in the wild.

 

Vertebrae: Bones of the backbone

Contributors

  • Anubhav Ghosh
    : Author
    I am pursuing my bachelor's in microbiology from Scottish Church College, Kolkata and the lab at my college is as close as my home is to me. My interest lies in molecular biology and cell signalling, and I want to be a professor when I grow up. I believe that what we see around has a fantastic science story in it. In my free time, I love to watch soccer. Writing for Smore Science gives me the chance to explore my take on explaining the science around me in ways that everyone can grasp.

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