The pangolin’s scales are made from
keratin—like our hair

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Pangolin

Conservation Status:

Least Threatened

  • There are 3 African species of pangolin
  • Scales make up for 20% of a pangolin’s weight
  • Native to 15 African countries

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Giant Ground Pangolin (Manis gigantea)
African White-Bellied Pangolin (Manis tricuspis)
Common Pangolin (Manis temminckii)

Weight

30 to 40 lb. (Common Pangolin)

Size

12 to 39 in. long depending on the species

Life span

20 years

Habitat

Dense forest to forested savannas

Diet

Insectivorous

Gestation

5 months

Predators

Leopards, hyenas, humans

Habitat

Where do pangolins live?

Pangolins prefer sandy soils and can be found in woodlands and savannas that are within reach of water. They are dispersed throughout Southern, Central, and East Africa.

Tags: Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kazungula, Kilimanjaro, Maasai Steppe, Zambezi, East Africa, Southern Africa, West/Central Africa View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What is a pangolin?

Despite its scaly appearance, the pangolin is not a reptile. This mammal’s scales are actually made up of keratin, and these scales make up about 15% of its weight. The pangolin has a small head and a long, broad tail. It has no external ears, but its hearing is quite good. Pangolins also have no teeth and, instead, have a gizzard-like stomach that is specially adapted for grinding food. Pangolins consume small stones and sand to assist the grinding. 

Behavior & Diet

Pangolins are creatures of the night.

Pangolins remain in their burrows during the day and come out at night to hunt. The pangolin uses its keen sense of smell to locate termite and ant nests. It digs the insects from mounds using its claws and eats them with its extremely long tongue (which can be up to 16 inches). Large salivary glands coat the tongue with gummy mucus to which ants and termites stick.

It is armed and dangerous. 

All pangolins are able to roll themselves into a ball as self-defense. Their armor-plated scales are also capable of a cutting action—worked by powerful muscles—that inflicts serious wounds on anything inserted between the scales.

Females are usually alone with their young.

The young pangolin is 6 inches long and weighs 12 ounces at birth. Its pale, soft scales begin to harden by the second day. The baby is folded in the mother's lap or rolled-up body. Nursed for 3 to 4 months of age, it begins to eat termites at 1 month old. At this time, the infant begins to accompany the mother, perhaps riding on the base of her tail. If the mother senses danger, the baby slips under her and is protected when she rolls up her body.

Gallery
  • Pangolin AWF
  • Pangolin Keith and Colleen Begg
  • Pangolin Daryl and Sharna Balfour
  • Pangolin Keith and Colleen Begg
Challenges

Humans have taken their toll on the pangolin.

Pangolins are believed to possess magic or charms. When mixed with bark from certain trees, the scales are thought to neutralize witchcraft and evil spirits. If buried near a man’s door, they are said to give an interested woman power over him. Sometimes the scales are burned to keep lions and other wild animals away. In some areas, pangolins are sacrificed for rainmaking ceremonies; in other areas, they are hunted for meat.

Solutions

Our solutions to protecting the pangolin:

  • Engage communities.

    African Wildlife Foundation works with communities living near pangolins and other wildlife to provide them with tools and incentives for sustainable agriculture that allow them to move away from hunting threatened wildlife for food.

  • Promote public awareness.

    AWF, along with partner organizations, creates public-awareness campaigns, like the "When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too" campaign with Yao Ming, to educate consumers of wildlife products about the damage being done to wildlife populations and the lack of any medicinal or magical properties in pangolin scales. 

Projects

Will you show pangolins your support?

With your help, AWF can continue working on sustainable agricultural solutions and public education initiatives that will help protect the pangolin. Donate for a cause that will help with wildlife conservation and ensure the pangolin does not become an endangered species. 

  • Kitengela Land Conservation
    Protecting habitat and communities near Kenya’s capital

    Human expansion is threatening wildlife outside of Nairobi, Kenya.

    For many years, local Maasai communities, their livestock, and wildlife comfortably shared the open...

    Read more
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