by Chew, Valerie
The Sunda Pangolin (scientific name: Manis javanica) is a scaly anteater that is found in Singapore and various other parts of Southeast Asia. It is a land mammal but has often been mistaken to be a reptile because of its scale-covered body. A shy and solitary animal, it is considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in Singapore and has been classified as "critically endangered" in The Singapore Red Data Book (2008), which lists the threatened plants and animals in the country.
The upper parts of the pangolin's body, including its tail, are covered with overlapping sharp-edged scales. Its head and tail are long and tapered. The average adult is 75cm to 1m long and weighs 5kg to 7kg. It is toothless, but it has a long tongue that it uses to lap up ants and termites. Although it has tiny external ears, it actually has good hearing, which helps to compensate for its poor eyesight.
Its scaly covering acts as an armour. When threatened, it curls up into a ball with its tail shielding its head and belly so that only the razor-sharp scales are exposed. Mothers carrying their young will tuck their charges into their abdomen before rolling up. A foul-smelling acid may also be secreted as a form of defence.
It is very adept at climbing trees, which it often does to reach ant or termite nests. It uses its prehensile tail for support when climbing by wrapping it around the trunks or branches. Largely nocturnal, it actively forages for up to four hours between sunset and midnight. During the day, it sleeps in the hollows of trees or in underground burrows.
It normally produces one, sometimes two, offspring a year. Pangolins are fully covered with scales at birth. When travelling, the mother will carry her offspring on her back just above the base of her tail.
The pangolin feeds on ants and termites, eating more than 70 million of these each year, or about 200,000 a day. It has an acute sense of smell for detecting its prey. Its large and powerful fore-claws are used to rip open the nests, and its long tongue is lubricated with sticky saliva that allows it to catch the insects as it probes deep into the nests.
Generally, these pangolins live in forests, scrubland and plantations. In Singapore, they are mostly found in the nature reserves, sometimes wandering into the housing estates nearby.
There are eight species of pangolins in the world, four of which are found in Asia and the rest in Africa. The Sunda Pangolin is a species native to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei Darussalam.
In Singapore, it is found mainly in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, though it has also been spotted in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the forested areas in Bukit Batok, the Western Catchment Area, Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.
There used to be a large population of pangolins in Singapore but rapid urbanisation has led to the destruction of their natural habitat. This is seen as the most serious threat to their survival. Because they move very slowly, many pangolins also get injured or killed on the roads when they wander out of the wooded areas.
Despite an international trade ban, poaching is another danger that pangolins face not just in Singapore but worldwide. They are hunted for their skin, meat and scales. Their skin is used as leather and their meat is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. Their scales are believed to possess medicinal value, especially in traditional Chinese medicine, where the scales are used in remedies for conditions ranging from rheumatism to cancer.
The pangolin is a protected animal in Singapore under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, which is enforced by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). There is a total ban on the trading of wild pangolins for primarily commercial purposes, but AVA may issue permits for the import or export of pangolins if certain conditions are met. Under the Act, anyone caught smuggling endangered species like the pangolin is liable to be prosecuted in court and fined a maximum of S$50,000 for each animal and/or jailed for up to two years.
Jun 1991 : An injured pangolin was seen seeking refuge in a tree near the Singapore immigration checkpoint at Woodlands.
Aug 1992 : A young pangolin was found opposite Hong Kah North Community Centre.
Sep 2004 : A pangolin that had been caught by the Singapore Zoo and released into the wild was caught a second time at the Horizon Gardens condominium in Ang Mo Kio.
Mar 2005 : An 85cm-long pangolin was discovered in the kitchen of a flat in Yishun.
Jan 2007 : A pangolin was found in an Upper Thomson home.
Jan 2008 : An adult male pangolin was seen hanging from a tree branch in a housing estate in Bukit Panjang.
Aug 2008 : A pangolin was found dead along Jalan Bahar in Jurong West.
Sep 2008 : A dead pangolin was spotted on Kranji Expressway.
English: Sunda Pangolin, Malayan Pangolin
French: Pangolin Javanais, Pangolin Malais
Spanish: Pangolín Malayo
Chinese: Chuan Shan Jia (refers to pangolins in general)
The English name "pangolin" comes from the Malay word peng-guling, which means "roller", referring to the animal's habit of rolling up into a ball.
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(Call no.: RSING 591.68095957 SIN)
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Francis, C. M. (2007). A photographic guide to mammals of South-East Asia. London: New Holland.
(Call no.: RSING 599.0959 FRA)
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Hanging out in Bukit Panjang. (2008, January 30). The Straits Times. Retrieved February 9, 2009, from Factiva database.
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. (2008). Manis javanica. Retrieved February 9, 2009, from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/12763
Lai, F. (2008, September 27). Scale up efforts to save pangolin. The Straits Times. Retrieved February 9, 2009, from Factiva database.
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(Call no.: RSING 574.529095957 SIN)
Rare scaly anteater a victim of road accident. (2008, August 11). The Straits Times. Retrieved February 9, 2009, from Factiva database.
Scaly guest pays a visit. (2007, January 26). The Straits Times. Retrieved February 9, 2009, from Factiva database.
Teh, J. L. (2005, March 23). Woman finds this animal in her HDB flat. The New Paper. Retrieved February 9, 2009, from Factiva database.
Teh, J. L. (2005, April 26). NUS student tracking pangolin at MacRitchie. The New Paper. Retrieved February 9, 2009, from Factiva database.
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Francis, C. M. (2008). A field guide to the mammals of South-East Asia. London: New Holland.
(Call no.: RSEA 599.0959 FRA)
Ng, P. K. L., Murphy, D. H., Lim, K. K. P., Chou, L. M., & Lane, D. J. W. (1995). A guide to the threatened animals of Singapore. Singapore: Singapore Science Centre.
(Call no.: RSING 591.529095957 GUI)
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.