World Pangolin Day

Pangolin by Morgan Richardson

Pangolin by Morgan Richardson


Have you heard of the pangolin? Pangolins are amazing. And yet, they could be disappear before most people have even heard of them. That is is why LA-based Disney Imagineer Morgan Richardson designed this beautiful and super colorful pangolin artwork. He is "hoping to make pangolins lovable" despite them being such oddballs! The more we fall in love with pangolins and understand the tragedy of the unsustainable demand for their body parts in the illegal wildlife trade, the better chance they have from being saved from extinction. World Pangolin Day is a great day to talk about pangolins and to help spread awareness about one of the world’s most vulnerable but least-known species.

The pangolin species carries with its name the tragic status of being the most trafficked mammal in the world. It has been estimated that over 1.1 million pangolins have been poached for the illegal trade in the last 16 years for use in traditional medicine, bushmeat and for demand in Asian markets where they are eaten as a delicacy and used for traditional medicine. Parts representing a minimum 19,000 African pangolins have been found since 2008, which likely represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of the true tragic size of the illegal trade. Pangolins are now banned from all international commercial trade. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) recently increased protection of all pangolin species to the highest level (Appendix I listing), with the resolution taking effect in January 2017. African pangolins give birth to a single pup per year, so poaching rates quickly become unsustainable. 

Did you know that there are both Asian and African pangolin species?

There are eight pangolin species in the world. Four are Asian species: the Chinese, Phillipine, Malay and Indian species. And in Africa, the tree, giant ground, cape and long-tailed pangolins. All are threatened species in sharp decline.

Temminck’s Ground pangolin at night.    Photo Credit: Luke Massey/WildScreen Exchange

Temminck’s Ground pangolin at night. Photo Credit: Luke Massey/WildScreen Exchange

Temminck’s Ground Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) is one of eight species of pangolins found in the world, and 1 of 4 in Africa. Only the Temminck’s Ground pangolin is found in South Africa. Traditionally, pangolins have been eaten as bushmeat in South Africa, and their parts and scales are used in traditional muthi medicine. Pangolins also are killed when caught in electrified fencing in South Africa - a high mortality rate of 2-13% of their total population each year. The pangolin's instinct when threatened is to roll up into a ball which prolongs the electric shock and leads to death. 

After a surge in poaching across Asia, the international illegal wildlife trade is now also a growing threat to African pangolin species. This year alone, our contacts at government anti-poaching teams have, through intelligence-led investigations, learnt of several pangolin individuals poached from the wild and being held illegally and imminently destined to be trafficked. In January this year, a man was caught at a shopping mall with a pangolin in his backpack - this was the first ever bust of its kind in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa. The smuggler was intending to sell the 8~9kg adult for over $7000. Sadly the pangolin, named Maritz after the location he was found, died despite the best efforts of specialists to rehabilitate him after his traumatic experience. It is a red flag alert that demand for African pangolins destined for Asian markets is on the rise in South Africa. 

Temminck's pangolin scales.    Photo Credit: Luke Massey/WildscreenExchange

Temminck's pangolin scales. Photo Credit: Luke Massey/WildscreenExchange

Sadly today in southern KwaZulu-Natal South Africa, pangolins are thought to be locally extinct. And in the north, there have been very few sightings in the last decade. We remain hopeful that it's not too late to help South Africa's pangolins.

How is Wild Tomorrow Fund helping local Temminck’s Ground pangolins?

Given the shy, reclusive nature of pangolins, we are not sure if and where they still exist in the wild in our region (KwaZulu-Natal South Africa). This is important information that is needed to guide a recovery plan. Wild Tomorrow Fund plans to survey local community members, rangers, farmers and conservation managers working at or near regional wildlife reserves to review the status of pangolins in northern Zululand.

Armed with this knowledge, we can better understand future conservation options and plans for pangolins in northern KwaZulu-Natal. We have already identified potential future release sites for poached pangolins and are working with a local technology partner to create a pangolin-sized tracker to monitor them once released back into the wild. We also provide funding for intelligence-led investigative work by local wildlife law enforcement which is critical to identifying poached pangolins that are still alive in captivity before they are trafficked. 


Temminick's pangolin at night.    Photo Credit: Luke Massey/WildScreenExchange

Temminick's pangolin at night. Photo Credit: Luke Massey/WildScreenExchange