A bambanani by Tikki Hywood Trust

This is a Pangolin

This is a Pangolin. It is the only mammal covered completely with scales instead of fur. Most people will never see a pangolin in the wild. Most people do not realise that the pangolin could be gone before we realise it was even there.

Tikki Hywood TrustAdult Pangolin - Tikki Hywood Trust

There are only eight species of this scaled and mystical creature. Four of them, The Indian pangolin, Formosan pangolin, Sunda pangolin and Palawan pangolin are found in Asia and are different because they have tiny bristles between their scales. In Africa the four species found south of the Sahara are the Temminck’s ground pangolin, Tree pangolin, Giant pangolin and the Long-tailed pangolin. All eight species are listed as endangered or vulnerable on the IUCN red list.

Tikki Hywood TrustBaby Pangolin - Tikki Hywood Trust

Though wide spread and found in National Parks from Virunga in the Congo to Kruger In South Africa, you are more likely to see the big five before you get to see a pangolin. In fact, sightings of the pangolin are so rare that it is traditionally considered to be a royal animal. It is prized not only for its scarcity but also for its scales and reportedly succulent meat, fit only for kings.

In the Congo, the Lele people consider it to be part fish (the scales) and part human because it only gives birth to a single offspring. This in-between-ness makes it a spiritually powerful being. A fact well documented by anthropologist Mary Douglas in her now famous book Purity and Danger (1966, Chapter 10 deals with the Pangolin Cult).

Tikki Hywood TrustPangolin ball - Tikki Hywood Trust

The name pangolin comes from the Malay word “pengguling” which, loosely translated, means something rolled up. Also known as the scaly ant-eater, pangolins roll into a tight ball when threatened. Sadly this also makes them a soft target for poachers who need only scoop them up and place them into a sack to be further trafficked.

Tikki Hywood TrustPangolin / trap / minder - Tikki Hywood Trust

There are some pretty amazing facts about pangolins. For a start, their soft sticky tongues can be longer than their bodies. They have powerful claws that they use to burrow into anthills to get to their favourite food, ants and termites. Its thought that a single pangolin can consume up to 70 million insects annually. That is quite a lot of ants!

Tikki Hywood TrustNewborn pangolin - Tikki Hywood Trust

Funnily, pangolins do not have teeth but ‘chew’ instead with stones found in their digestive tracts. In addition to these adaptations, pangolins are able to seal off their ears and nostrils when eating to prevent attack from their angry dinner. Because of their highly specialised diet, pangolins do not do well in captivity and easily become malnourished, dehydrated and distressed.

Tikki Hywood TrustBambanani Tongue - Tikki Hywood Trust

While the hard scales are a perfect defence against most natural predators it also makes them a target for the international trade in animal parts. There is wide spread belief in Asia that the scales can cure a huge gamut of illnesses. In addition to this both baby pangolin and adult meat is considered a delicacy and thought to convey excellent health benefits.

Demand for these creatures has burgeoned in Asia. This has resulted in the decimation of the Asian populations. Coupled with the growing trade between Asia and Africa it is feared that the focus has shifted to the African continent. Poachers and syndicates are poaching at an unprecedented rate.

Tikki Hywood TrustLarge middle aged adult - Tikki Hywood Trust

The pangolin is the most trafficked animal in the world.  But how is this even possible, surely we would have heard of it before? The rhino and elephant for example are well documented because they are seen as flagship species. They are iconic and are seen to represent the whole conservation project. Years of research and public awareness campaigns have gone into these species. For this reason we see them a lot in the media.

By comparison, very little is known about the pangolin. There are no indepth distribution or population maps and no one even knows how long they live. The trade for this reclusive animal has therefore been going on in a media blindspot. It was not until 2014 says Lisa Hywood of the Tikki Hywood Trust that pangolins started to receive the media attention that they so desperately need.

Tikki Hywood TrustGround Pangolin - Tikki Hywood Trust

In October of 2016 at the CITES convention held in Johannesburg, South Africa, all eight species were upgraded to Appendix 1. This means that international trade in animals is strictly prohibited. In addition to this there are some amazing people working tirelessly to save this exceptional species. 

Tikki Hywood TrustGround Pangolin at the Tikki Hywood Trust - Tikki Hywood Trust

The Tikki Hywood Trust was founded in 1994 and for 22 years has been fighting the cause for lesser known and endangered species. They focus on conservation, education and legislation. Lisa Hywood, who founded the trust in honour of her father, believes that awareness is the key to saving species. By being aware of the animals we are trying to save, the legislation that protects them and the people or organisations to contact you can make a real difference to individual animals and to the species at large.

Tikki Hywood TrustPangolin minders at tikki hywood trust - Tikki Hywood Trust

Recently, world renowned photographer Adrian Steirn shot some incredible images, The Pangolin Men, of pangolins with the people who look after them on a daily basis. Because they do so badly in captivity, these men accompany the pangolins out into the wild to forage for food. They are their constant companions. To see them is to visualise what it will take for the survival of a species.

To help these organisations and people you can visit the following links:

The Tikki Hywood Trust : All about the trust and a place where you can donate, sponsor or even partner this very important player in conservation.

Save Pangolins.org : This site has LOADS of useful information about what to do and who to contact regarding pangolins and pangolin wellfare

Patrick Mavros Animal Jewelry : One of the Tikki Hywood Trusts Partners who have launched and incredible range of pangolin inspired jewelry.

Tikki Hywood TrustJagged scales on juvenile body - Tikki Hywood Trust


If you liked this post, these trips cover similar ground…


Leave a Comment or Ask a Question

comments powered by Disqus

Similar & Related Blog Posts

Below you’ll find further reading and articles related or similar to this post.

The Great Victoria Falls Debate: Zambia vs Zimbabwe

Mike So you're travelling to the mighty Victoria Falls, fantastic! Which side of the Zambezi River will you stay: Zambia or Zimbabwe? Here's everything you need to know to make that decision,  Read on

Endangered Animals in Africa & How to Help

Gerry ZamboniniOn African Safaris you may be lucky enough to spot a few of these 11 endangered wild animals, roaming free. Face the facts about these endangered African wildlife species, and see how you can help to ensure their survival! Read on

Will the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species make a difference?

African elephant in South Africa The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species conference starts this Sunday. Will the international parties from over 170 countries ensure that the international trade in species does not threaten their survival? Read on

Rights for Rhinos walking across South Africa!

Rhino in Imfolozi South AfricaToday two game rangers, Paul Jennings and Sboniso Phakathi, start their walk for rhino conservation from Musina on the northern border of South Africa to Cape Town on the southern tip of the continent. These dedicated Rights for Rhinos activists will be walking for three months to raise awareness and funds for rhino conservation in South Africa.  Read on
Show us some FB Love
Follow @RealAfroSafaris