Pangolin photographed in Singapore by Norman Lim. From Wildlife Singapore.
Sadly, this harmless beast may soon be poached out of existence.
What is a pangolin?
From Ecology Asia and Wildlife Singapore: The Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) is a mammal, although its 'scales' makes it resemble a reptile. It is also known as the Scaly anteater. And indeed, it does feed only on ants and termites, finding them with its keen sense of smell. It can climb trees, helped along by wrapping its muscular, prehensile tail around branches. Adults grow to 75cm to 1m long and weigh 5kg to 7kg. It has powerful claws to dig up ant and rip up termite nests. And a long tongue coated with sticky saliva which it inserts into the nest to gather up the tasty titbits. The pangolin is toothless so it swallows its tiny prey alive and whole. On average a pangolin may eat 200,000 ants or termites per day! The pangolin is more active at night, resting during the day in burrows, tree holes or in trees.
Its upper parts and tail are protected by overlapping, hard, sharp-edged 'scales' which are actually made up of a compressed, hair-like material. The pangolin has no scales on its underside. When it is threatened, it curls up into an armoured ball, hiding its nose and belly. It may also secrete a smelly substance. Sadly, this makes it very easy to pick up a pangolin.
Pangolins breed slowly, with only one or two young born a year. The babies sit astride the base of the mother's tail until they can move about on their own. When attacked, the mother tucks her baby on her tummy before curling up into a ball.
Our pangolins are special!
Sunda pangolins are found in Southeast Asia's forests and plantations, from Burma, Thailand and Indochina through Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore to Borneo, Sumatra and Java.
Distribution map from IUCN.
Where are Singapore's pangolins found?
From the Singapore Red Data Book 2008 on the NParks website (pdf), in Singapore, pangolins are found mainly in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. It is also recorded from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, as well as in the rural and scrub areas especially north of the Pan-Island Expressway, in Bukit Batok, the Western Catchment Area and on the islands of Ubin and Tekong.
Have YOU seen a pangolin in our wild places? Please share your sighting at this website http://mammal.sivasothi.com/ so that researchers can learn more about our pangolins and thus help protect them. Thank you!
What is the status of the pangolin in Singapore?
From the Singapore Red Data Book 2008 on the NParks website (pdf), the pangolin is listed as 'Critically Endangered' in Singapore due to habitat loss and poaching. "Due to their wandering nature and clumsy gait, many pangolins in Singapore lose their lives on highways." Indeed, a conservation measure proposed for the pangolin are "tunnels under roads that bisect wooded areas (e.g., the Bukit Timah Expressway) to facilitate the animals’ safe movement."
Poached out of existence
Poaching is a serious threat not just in Singapore but worldwide.
From the IUCN website: "The Sunda pangolin is globally listed as 'Endangered' due high levels of hunting primarily for medicinal purposes. There have been suspected declines of 50% over the last 15 years, and projected continuing declines over the next 15 years, with the intensity of hunting steadily moving into the southern parts of the specie's range."
Pangolins are hunted for their skin, meat and scales. Their skin is used as leather and their meat is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. Their scales are believed to possess medicinal value, especially in traditional Chinese medicine, where the scales are used in remedies for conditions ranging from rheumatism to cancer.
China fuels the demand, with scientists estimating that 100,000 animals are needed each year to satisfy the demand for meat and scales. Massive hauls of hundreds of pangolins are often intercepted by the authorities in various countries. Unless the poaching stops, pangolins are likely to disappear from Southeast Asia completely.
In Singapore, the pangolin is protected under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, which is enforced by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). There is a total ban on the trading of wild pangolins for primarily commercial purposes. Under the Act, anyone caught smuggling endangered species like the pangolin is liable to be prosecuted in court and fined a maximum of S$50,000 for each animal and/or jailed for up to two years.
What can you do to help pangolins?
If you spot poachers in our Reserves and forests, you can call
Downloadable TRAFFIC pdf document with background on the plight of the pangolins.
Fact sheets about the Sunda pangolin
- Wildlife Singapore
- Ecology Asia
- infopedia of the National Library: with a list of recent sightings of pangolins in Singapore
- Singapore Red Data Book 2008 on the NParks website (pdf)
- Toothless laws fail toothless anteaters (pangolins) IUCN 14 Jul 09;
- Pangolins face worst threat in SE Asia: wildlife official Yahoo News 3 Mar 09;
- CITES and Endangered Species on the AVA website
- Pangolins in the news: wildlife trade and other issues on the wildsingapore news blog.