While they are a potent defence against predators, their scales are useless against poachers, and all eight species in Asia and Africa are now under threat.
Also known as scaly-anteaters, pangolins are the world’s only truly scaly mammals. They feed exclusively on ants and termites, scooping them up with their sticky tongues, which can be even longer than their bodies. Solitary and nocturnal, they roll up into a ball when threatened - making them all too easy for poachers to catch.
Over the past decade, over a million pangolins have been illegally taken from the wild to feed demand in China and Viet Nam. Their meat is considered a delicacy, while their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine as they are believed to treat a range of ailments from asthma to rheumatism and arthritis.
Populations of Asian pangolins are estimated to have declined by up to 80 per cent in the last 10 years. As they become harder to find, traders are increasingly looking to Africa to meet the growing demand.
All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws. However, this has not halted the massive international illegal trade in the species, and now their are calls for even greater protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as well as enhanced efforts to stop the poaching, trafficking and demand.
WWF, together with TRAFFIC, is working in Asia and Africa to combat wildlife crime. Along with supporting enhanced anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts, we are actively trying to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products in countries like China and Viet Nam.
And WWF is lobbying for strong national laws and stronger enforcement to ensure that wildlife crime does not pay - and that it is poachers who end up being caught, not pangolins.