The Tree Pangolin

Picture of rescued pangolin before release into IITA forest

Rescued pangolin before release into IITA forest

Pangolins are extraordinary animals in habits and appearance. Though they look like ant-eaters and armadillos their closest relatives are carnivores, such as cats, dogs and bears. They feed on ants and termites by means of a sticky tongue which is as long as the entire body. It is estimated that one pangolin consumes 70 million a year. Their underparts are hairy but the rest of the body is covered with tough, overlapping scales. When alarmed they roll into a tight ball which may protect against predators but not hunters. There are only eight species in the world – four in Asia and four in Africa – and all are endangered through loss of habitat, hunting for bush meat, and demand for their scales which, though made of keratin – the same substance as our hair and nails – are believed in Asia to have medicinal properties.

The white-bellied or tree pangolin Phataginus tricuspis is found in the IITA Forest Reserve. It measures 60-100cm long from nose to tail but is not often seen as it is nocturnal and sleeps in a burrow or hollow tree during the day. Females give birth to a single young that rides on the mother’s tail for the first few months. This harmless and environmentally useful animal is on the IUCN Red List as VU (Vulnerable).