Passionate about the Pangolin

Passionate about the Pangolin

#Conservation, #Taronga Conservation Society Australia

Posted on 19th February 2021 by Media Relations

Pangolins are one of the most fascinating and bizarre mammals in the world and are often referred to as a walking pine-cone. They are “the most trafficked mammal you’ve never heard of” and there is a chance they could go extinct before most people even realise they exist!

So, on World Pangolin Day, one of the easy things you can do is have a conversation with friends and family about the lesser known species. Here are some conversation starters to get a discussion going!

Illegal Wildlife Trade

An estimated one million pangolin are estimated to have been taken from the wild since 2000, with approximately 195,000 trafficked in 2019 alone. The international trade of pangolin has been illegal since 2017, but demand for their flesh and scales continues to drive poaching and illegal trafficking.

In parts of Asia, the flesh of pangolins is considered a delicacy and powdered pangolin scales are thought to be an aphrodisiac and to hold high medicinal qualities despite being made of keratin, the same substance found in human nails and hair.

Unfortunately, when frightened the pangolin will curl up into a tight ball to protect its bare belly. While this defence method can be effective against predators like tigers it is not so effective against humans.

Data Unknowns

There are still so many unknowns about these elusive creatures! In 2021, we still don’t have data to accurately estimate wild population numbers, regionally or globally. We also don’t know how long they live for in the wild. The Pangolin are seemingly easy to hunt but are difficult to census and accurately collect data from. In fact, some conservation agencies are providing alternative sources of income to ex-poachers to use their skills (and dogs!) to find the pangolin for population monitoring.

Taronga Legacy Species

In 2016, Taronga launched its legacy for the future and the wild, dedicating the next decade to the conservation of ten critical species, known now as our Legacy Species. Five of these species are native to Australia and five are on the brink of extinction in Sumatra, Indonesia. The Sunda Pangolin is threated with poaching and habitat loss and was chosen as one of the five Sumatran Legacy species because;

  • The Sunda Pangolin is considered one of the most critically endangered out of the 8 species of Pangolin;
  • The population is estimated to decline up to 80% over the next 20 years;
  • They play an essential role in ecosystem management through regulating insect populations;
  • It is the most commonly found Pangolin in wildlife trade and considered the most trafficked mammal in the world.

Actions Taronga is Taking

As part of our commitment to the Sumatra Legacy Species, Taronga has a holistic approach to combatting wildlife trafficking, habitat loss and climate change. We are working with partners in several areas to address the population decline of the Sunda Pangolin, including;

  • Partnering with Save Vietnam’s Wildlife to provide nutrition advice to support the wellbeing of rehabilitated pangolins. We are also supporting SVW’s work to develop a disease risk strategy for Sunda Pangolin releases.
  • Taronga is working with the University of New South Wales, University of Technology Sydney and ANSTO to develop forensic tools to combat illegal wildlife trade in both Australia and Southeast Asia.  
  • Taronga is committed to supporting TRAFFFIC Southeast Asia, we have funded a Wildlife Crime Analyst and together developed the Wildlife Witness App. We are also currently working with the Zoo and Aquarium Association and TRAFFIC to develop a regional approach to wildlife trafficking data collection and availability, which will inform development of targeted action plans.
  • Taronga is working in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra to restore degraded grassland back to Lowland forest to support habitat availability for critically endangered species such as the Sunda Pangolin.

Now armed with lots of discussion points, we encourage you to have a conversation about the pangolin on World Pangolin Day!

To support this work in Sumatra, please donate