The Sunda Pangolin is also known as the Malayan or Javan pangolin. They are mammals of the order Pholidota (meaning clad in scale). They are now critically endangered because of poaching and destruction of their natural habitats. The animals play the important ecological role of controlling termite and ant populations in the forests.
Its body is covered by overlapping plates of large, hard scales with sharp edges. These are made of keratin, similar to our fingernails. Its big and powerful claws easily tear into ant nests and termite mounds. Its long and sticky tongue is then unleashed into the broken down nest to collect ants/termites. These are swallowed whole, since pangolin has no teeth. The hard exoskeletons of ants / termites are ground down in the pangolin’s muscular, spikey gizzard which contains small stones (gastroliths).
Pangolin’s strong claws and prehensile tail help it to climb trees where it spends a large part of its life.
When threatened it curls up into a ball (Volvation). The overlapping scales on its back act as an armor to protect the soft under-belly. Its vulnerable face and snout are tucked under its thick tail. The baby pangolin also curls into a ball in the face of danger. The mother will then tuck the baby ball into her tummy fold. The mother can also extend her scales and move them back and forth to create cutting motions to fight off the predator.
Pangolins can also burrow down into the ground (up to 10 feet deep) to sleep during the day.
They are nocturnal, reclusive and solitary. The males mark their territories with urine / faces / chemical from their anal glands. The noxious scent from the anal glands is similar to those of skunks. The males use it as a warning signal to other males or to attract a mate. Mothers also use this stink to ward off predators while nurturing her young.
The females look for the males once a year to mate and produce a litter of one to two offspring. She has one pair of mammae which she uses to suckle her young for three months. The newborn animal has open eyes and soft scales with protruding hairs between them.
Pangolins are also known to be able to swim. They fill their stomach with air to improve buoyancy before entering the water.
Article by Wong Kais
The pangolins were sighted at Old Upper Thomson Road, Singapore on 29 August 2021 at 11.30 pm. Video courtesy of
Dr Francis Seow-Choen
Honorary Research Associate, Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah, Malaysia
Honorary Research Affiliate, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Singapore
Honorary Research Associate, National Biodiversity Centre, National Parks Board, Singapore