Pangolin is a mammal of the order Pholidota, whose genus Manis of the family Manidae comprises eight species currently living in the wild. They all feature a unique form of adaptation among mammals having their skin covered with large, hardened, plate-like keratin scales. Thanks to this armour, Pangolin can protect themselves even from the most ferocious predators once they curl up into a ball.
An Indian Pangolin defending itself from Asian lions, Gir Forest, Gujarat, India. Photo courtesy of Sandip Kumar.
Despite being very effective against predators in the wild, these very scales are putting the conservation status of Pangolin at a stake. Human demand for scales and meat have massively impacted on their wild population, with tenths of thousands animals being killed and smuggled every year. The range of this genus used to cover large portions of Africa and Asia. In particular the Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) is found in northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, possibly Bangladesh, across Myanmar to northern Indochina, through most of southern China, including Taiwan.
Internationally the Chinese Pangolin is protected by CITES Appendix II, with zero quota to China. In the country, this is also enlisted in the Class II China national protected species list. Even after the inclusion in the IUCN Red List in 2008, rapid loss and deterioration of available habitat and hunting for local use and trade in skins, scales, and meat continue to represent severe threats to the survival of these mild and non-aggressive animals. While skins and scales are used for fashion design, the latter are also a traditional Chinese medicine remedy, and Pangolin's meat is regarded as a food delicacy in Vietnam and southern China.
WCS China has included Pangolin in its priority species list. Our Wildlife Trade team actively engages in market monitoring and surveillance to monitor the trade and consumption of this species. In this activity a particular focus is given to the southern China provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi, where most of the trade routes are located.