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

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Conservation Status:


  • There are 4 African species of pangolin
  • Scales make up for 20% of a pangolin’s weight
  • Native to 15 African countries

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Giant Pangolin (Smutsia gigantea)
Tree Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis)
Ground Pangolin (Manis temminckii)
Long-tailed Pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla)


30 to 40 lb. (Common Pangolin)


12 to 39 in. long depending on the species

Life span

20 years


Dense forest to forested savannas




5 months


Leopards, hyenas, humans


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, East Africa, Southern Africa, West/Central Africa, Kazungula, Kilimanjaro, Zambezi, Pangolin 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.

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

Humans have taken their toll on the pangolin.

The pangolin is world’s most trafficked mammal. An estimated 100,000 of these shy creatures are removed from the wild each year.

Increasingly, the scaly mammal is hunted for its meat and scales, which are in high demand in some Asian countries. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy while its scales are used in traditional medicine.

In September 2016, all commercial trade in pangolin was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).


Our solutions to protecting the pangolin:

  • 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. 

  • Deploy detection dogs.

    Through its Canines for Conservation program, AWF works with wildlife authorities to train and deploy sniffer dog teams to key airports, seaports and other wildlife trafficking hubs. Dog-and-handler teams in East Africa have intercepted pangolin scales on multiple occasions. 


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. 

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