Malayan Pangolin (Manis javanica) – the Anteating, Walking Pinecone

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The walking pinecone

Malayan pangolin, the walking pinecone.
Credited to Alain Compost / Biosphoto.

Malayan Pangolin Quick Facts [1]

  • Also known as Sunda pangolin.
  • Size: 79-88 cm long, from nose to tail. Males bigger than females.
  • Distinguishing features:
    • Rows of overlapping, movable, sharp scales covering from above nostril to tip of tail along its back.
    • Short legs, with forelimbs longer and more powerful than hind limbs.
    • Tapering snout.
    • Long prehensile tail for climbing trees.
    • Long, powerful sharp claws for digging and climbing trees.
    • Whitish to pale-brown hair on face and underbelly.
    • Long tongue covered with sticky saliva.
    • Toothless.
    • Reduced external ear.
  • Terrestrial, nocturnal and partially arboreal
  • Habitat range: Primary and secondary rainforests, open grasslands, scrublands, gardens, plantations.
  • Diet: Ants and termites only.
  • Predators: Humans, big cats, pythons, wild dogs.
  • No. of offspring per breed: 1, occasionally 2.

Where Can it be Found?

Across Souteast Asia region from Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia in main SE Asia, to offshore islands of Singapore, Sumatra, Java and Borneo. Refer to image of its natural range at the bottom of the post.


Pangolins in Asia, including the Malayan pangolin, are frequently hunted by poachers for their meat, skin and scales [2]. The scales, which make up of the pangolin’s characteristic armour, is the most extensively demanded pangolin products since it is believed that pangolin scales have medicinal properties, even if they are just made up of fused hair [3]. China is one of the biggest importing countries for international pangolin trade because of the country’s increasing wealth and heavy demand for pangolin products [3]. Due to recent declining populations of pangolins in the northern ranges, more pangolins have been caught being exported from the southern ranges like Indonesia, proven by recent strings of confiscations by law enforcement agencies in Malaysia and Indonesia [4].

A pangolin stuffed in bottle sold as medicine.
Credited to Brad Crittenden.

To hunters, pangolins are easy to track as they only need a torchlight or a trained dog to search for them at night where they are the most active. Pangolins are also easy to catch because all the hunter needs to do is to pick up the pangolin’s defensive curled up form and stuff it into an enclosed container. Sometimes, traps are also used. As pangolins are shy and delicate animals, they will often sustain heavy stress or injuries during capture and transport, causing mortalities from infection or diseases for the captured pangolins even after they are rescued [5]. In addition, with the high prices (ranging from US$9 to US$97 per kg in Malaysia) fetched in the market for pangolins and their products, pangolin trade is an attractive business for wildlife hunters and traders across Southeast Asia [3][4][5][6].

Besides wildlife trade, rainforest habitat loss is another threat to Malayan pangolins [4]. Malayan pangolin populations in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam had been driven to the highlands due to clearing of lowland rainforest patches for agricultural uses [4]. Although pangolins can adapt to a wide variety of terrestrial habitats, they need specific requirements (plenty of tree hole shelters and stable supply of food) to survive [7]. In Singapore, Malayan pangolins are also threatened by habitat fragmentation, in which the roads separating the habitat fragments also pose serious hazards to pangolins that try to cross over between patches [8].

As a result of international wildlife trade and habitat loss, the populations of Malayan pangolin are decreasing over the last 15 years all across its entire range and speculations that they will decrease for the next 15 years [4].

Conservation Efforts

Malayan pangolins are hard to keep in captivity because of their shy nature and strict specialist diet, hence it is crucial that conservation efforts are focused on areas to prevent removal of wild pangolins from their native habitats. Several organizations are working with governments, wildlife authorities, and local communities to address pangolin conservation in several key areas [9]. Some of these conservation efforts already implemented include:

  • Laws and legislations set by SE Asian governments and international conservation agencies to protect Malayan pangolins within their natural habitat range.
    • Malayan pangolin has been listed as Endangered by the IUCN.
    • It is listed on CITES Appendix II, with full ban implemented for commercial trading of this species.
    • It is now mostly found in protected areas in its range.
  • Training rangers and wildlife authorities to enforce laws and deter illegal wildlife trade.
    • Implemented in November 2008 by the partnership of Pangolin Conservation Stakeholders Workshop and Conservation International-Cambodia in the Cardamom mountains region, Cambodia. Sponsored by Pangolin Conservation Support Initiative.
  • Further research can be applied by:
    • Field research about pangolin biology, ecology, history and population studies.
    • Interviewing local hunters on their knowledge regarding pangolin behaviour and trade activities in SE Asia.
  • Education
    • Increase awareness of the problem to the general public, local communities and officials.
  • Rescue and rehabilitaion centres
  • Partnerships of local communities, governments, conservation organizations, zoos, non-government organizations (NGOs) and research institutes in decision making for more effective conservation efforts.


There are still a lot of unknown informations regarding Malayan pangolin conservation, such as population studies, detailed behaviour, evolution and ecological studies, impacts of habitat loss to pangolin populations, short and long term results of current conservation efforts and detailed statistics on pangolin trades in all importing and exporting countries [4][7]. If these gaps in the knowledge regarding pangolin conservation can be filled, the new knowledge can help conservationists, governments and participating groups to think up of more effective policies to help conserve this endangered species.

Besides the known current conservation efforts as listed above, there are also other possible solutions that can be suggested. These include relocation of rescued pangolins to modified habitats suitable for sustaining pangolin populations [7], or developing techniques for keeping and breeding pangolins in captivity [9]. Relocation may seem to be feasible, since pangolins are do known to adapt to any habitats as long as certain requirements are met [7]. If captive breeding of pangolins can work, it may be possible to introduce these extraordinary animals to a wider audience in zoos.

Current natural range of Malayan pangolin. Most of these countries within the range actively take part in pangolin conservation efforts, but… (Source: IUCN Redlist)

Overview of pangolin international trade routes in Asia. Notice that most of the imports end up in China… not within Malayan pangolin’s natural range. Map based on recent surveys organized by TRAFFIC as well as seizure data [3].

Although there are many parties within the pangolins’ natural range that are involved in Malayan pangolin conservation efforts, these efforts should also be extended to countries outside of the pangolins’ natural range so that awareness can be made to the general public from more places and gain support from more parties. As shown in the above two maps, if international wildlife trade for pangolins in SE Asia is to be curbed, it is imperative that conservation efforts must extend to importing countries within and outside the region, such as China, the major import country. This is essential in cutting the demand for pangolin goods so that there will be less incentives for pangolin trades [3].

Overall, the future prospects of Malayan pangolin conservation look rather uncertain.  Still, the good news is that within areas of pangolins’ native range, the participation of many parties across Asia involved in Malayan pangolin conservation over the years has meant that this problem has been treated seriously by many, so it is possible that, by raising awareness of Asian pangolin conservation to others by many of these parties, it is possible that there will be more support given to raise efforts in Malayan pangolin conservation, increasing the chance that long term conservation efforts to succeed in recovering Malayan pangolin populations in the future.

Help us!
Credited to Jimin Lai

How You can Help?

  • Drive carefully while you are passing through wild pangolin habitat areas.
  • Support organizations with pangolin conservation programs.
  • Spread knowledge to people around you. Raise the awareness.
  • Report wildlife crime.
  • Don’t eat pangolins.
  • Most importanty, reject buying pangolin products. NO DEMAND -> NO TRADE.

References cited

[1] Breen K. Manis javanica 2003. In: Animal Diversity Web [Internet]; [cited 2013 Apr 13]. Available from

[2] Manis crassicaudata, Manis pentadactyla, Manis javanica. Transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, United States) 2000. In: CITES. Prop. 11. 13. [Internet]. [cited 2013 Apr 13] Available from

[3] Pantel S, Anak NA. A preliminary assessment of pangolin trade in Sabah. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia; 2010.

[4] Duckworth JW, Pattanavibool A, Newton P, Nguyen VN. Manis javanica 2008 In: IUCN 2012. Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. [Internet]; [cited 2013 Mar 16]. Available from:

[5] Pantel S, Chin SY, editors. Proceedings of the Workshop on Trade and Conservation of Pangolins Native to South and Southeast Asia. 30 June-2 July 2008. Singapore Zoo, Singapore. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia; 2009.

[6] Newton P, Nguyen TV, Roberton S, Bell D. Pangolins in peril: using local hunters’ knowledge to conserve elusive species in Vietnam. Endangered Species Research 2008; 6; 41-53.

[7] Lim NTL, Ng PKL. Home range, activity cycle and natal den usage of a female Sunda pangolin Manis javanica (Mammalia: Pholidota) in Singapore. Endangered Species Research 2007; 3; 1-8.

[8] Ng PKL, Corlett RT, Tan HTW, editors. Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; 2011.

[9] [Internet]. 2013; [cited 2013 Apr 10]. Available from:

Written by u0903085

April 16, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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