Pangolins are among the world’s most extraordinary animals. They are the only truly scaly mammals and their defense, when threatened, is to curl up into a tight ball with their overlapping scales acting like a suit of armour. Pangolins are adapted to feed exclusively on ants and termites and have long, sticky tongues, which they use to scoop up their insect prey. They are thought to provide an important role in the ecosystem, helping to regulate insect populations and aerate the soil with their digging.
Pangolins are highly evolutionarily distinct, representing over 80 million years of unique evolutionary history.
The entire group, which comprises only eight species (four in Asia and four in Africa), is threatened with extinction. All species are being poached for illicit international trade for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, and their scales which are used in traditional medicines, thus making them the most heavily trafficked wild mammals on the planet.
Demand for pangolins in East Asia has increased dramatically in recent years; one million pangolins are estimated to have been traded illegally in the last decade, contributing to population declines of up to 80 per cent in the Asian species and a subsequent increase in inter-continental trade in pangolins from African countries to Asian markets.