Africa Geographic

Let’s Talk Pangolins

By Caitlan Burns

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For those of you who don’t know, this is a pangolin.


APWG/courtesy of The Telegraph


They’re like the adorable baby of an anteater and a dragon. There are eight species which live in Africa and parts of Asia, including Vietnam and Indonesia. Pangolins are unique, being the only mammal with scales. They also have a prehensile tail, are able to walk on their hind legs and can roll into a ball. This unusual animal is spectacular in so many ways and yet there are still people who don’t know about them. Personally, I feel pangolins should be given even billing with penguins and introduced to children along with tigers, elephants, rhinos and other endangered animals. For one thing, it would introduce them to more unusual creatures. They already know about the platypus so why not the Pangolin? For another, it would be good to show kids this animal before it goes extinct.


Firdia Linsnawati/AP/Courtesy of NPR


World Pangolin Day is held on the third Saturday of every February to increase awareness of Pangolins. This year it was February 17. Even though the day has passed, Pangolins need attention all year round. They’re a heavily trafficked animal that is killed, both for their scales, which are used in traditional medicine, and for their meat. People apparently like to eat pangolin because it’s exotic. There’s even a restaurant where they’ll bring the pangolin out and slit its throat in front of you. There’s a CNN article that goes into much greater depth complete with some pretty graphic pictures. You can click on it, or not, if you want.




Though there are rules against trafficking in pangolins, there’s just not enough funding, it’s not a prime concern and there’s evidence in the article linked above that the government in Vietnam lets a lot of things slide. Another problem is that one way to prevent trafficking in pangolins is to seize them, kill them and dispose of them so that poachers can’t use them anymore. While this prevents the use of pangolin parts and satisfies the local government it’s definitely not a satisfactory solution. Treating living animals like a seized shipment of pot or counterfeit bills also highlights certain problems with animal rights.


Judy Hurd/Courtesy of


Hopefully, this article will have inspired increased interest in these magnificent beasts. Though support has been slow to appear, over the last few years several organizations have taken up the cause or come into existence. If you want to help, there are several options you just have to do a quick search. Some will even give you a plush Pangolin for donating.


You can also check out some cute pictures from the APWG (African Pangolin Working Group) here.