The majestic, ant- and termite-eating secretive, solitary and nocturnal mammal; pangolins are distributed across the continents of Africa and Asia. The name pangolin is believed to have been derived from the Malayan word ‘Penggulin’, which can be loosely translated to mean ‘something that rolls up’, at its best. Pangolins are the only known mammal to be covered in scales and have inhabited our planet for around 80 million years. They are currently reported to demonstrate alarming decline in their numbers in the wild in both continents due to sever anthropogenic pressures. In total eight species of pangolins are known to zoologists, four from the continent of Africa and another four from Asia. The biggest threat to pangolins has been rampart poaching, and has been the single biggest factor responsible for their rapid decline across China, South and SE Asia.
According to IUCN, the global conservation status of pangolins is as follows: VULNERABLE (four species), ENDANGERED (two species) and CRITICALLY ENDANGERED (two species). The Asiatic pangolin species constitute
1. CRITICALLY ENDANGERED Chinese pangolin (distributed across Taiwan, south China, northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, northern parts of Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos),
2. ENDANGERED Indian pangolin (distributed across India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka),
3. CRITICALLY ENDANGERED Malayan or Sunda pangolin (distributed across Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia), and
4. ENDANGERED Philippine or Palawan pangolin (endemic to Palawan province, the Philippines).
The high demand for exotic pets, live wildlife, escalating demands for different wildlife parts for traditional medicinal usage and exotic bush meat in illegal, under ground multi million dollar black markets operating in Hong Kong, China; and some parts of South East Asia (such as Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia) is a cumulative factor behind the heavy anthropogenic pressures on various species of pangolin surviving in small populations and sub populations in fragmented and heavily disturbed natural habitats.
Pangolins are currently the most trafficked and poached mammal in the planet and CITES has shifted pangolins to Appendix 1, as one of the species that is in immediate need of maximum conservation efforts; or else they run the serious risk of becoming extinct. The massive trafficking and killing of pangolins in China and Viet Nam for their scales (believed to have medicinal properties; with no scientific foundation) and bush meat as a delicacy in several high end restaurants are imposing serious threats to pangolin populations in China, South and SE Asia predominantly Viet Nam.
Saikat Kumar Basu,