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What is a Pangolin?

There are eight species of pangolins worldwide, of which four occur in Asia and four in Africa. Pangolins are unique mammals, as they are the only mammals whose bodies are covered in scales rather than fur. These scales are composed of keratin (the same material that makes up human fingernails), although some species also have a hard layer of calcareous material underneath the keratin. The belly, underside of the head and inside of the limbs are not  covered with scales.


Pangolins are entirely myrmecophagous - that is to say they only feed on ants and termites. The proportion of ants and termites consumed varies seasonally and geographically, but typically 90–95% of the diet consists of ants and the remaining 5–10% of termites. They  have a very long tongue - as long as the head and body combined - and is thin and covered in sticky saliva. 


Pangolins make very few sounds. When they walk or climb, their scales can be heard rubbing against one another and against the vegetation. When awakening or feeding, they snort and chuff audibly. Males also rarely make a soft hooting noise.


Pangolins are long-lived and are believed to live for up to 20 years in the wild, with the oldest recorded pangolin (an Asian species) living for more than 19 years in a zoo. This is the exception, however, as pangolins do not survive well in captivity and most die very soon after entering captivity. This is the reason why there are virtually no pangolins in captivity or in zoo’s worldwide. All four African Pangolins are listed on CITES Appendix I.

If you want to know more

Visit the APWG website

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