The Ground Pangolin according to MammalMAP
The ground pangolin (Manis temminckii), also known as Temmnick’s Pangolin or the Cape Pangolin, is one of four species of pangolin which can be found in Africa and the only one in southern and eastern Africa. The Pangolin measures over 1 m in length and weighs up to 18 Kg. The body is protected by armour of imbricated brown scales, which uniquely identifies this species amongst all mammals. Except for the forehead, there are no scales on the head or belly, or on the inner surfaces of the legs.
Since Pangolins are entirely insectivorous, an abundant availability of ants and termites to sustain subsistence, governs its occurrence. Another factor determining occurrence is the availability of burrows or other forms of shelter. They feed predominantly on formicid ants. Pangolins appear to be highly selective feeders in that only 19 species of ants and termites are taken.
It locates prey by smell, even under the soil surface. When prey is located, tunnels are opened up with the well-equipped front paws. The 250 mm long, rod-shaped tongue is covered with sticky saliva. This is used as a tool to collect prey by inserting it into the termite tunnels. When withdrawn it is covered with trapped prey which is gathered into the mouth.
In South Africa the ground pangolin ranges over most of the former eastern, northern and western Transvaal, northern KwaZulu-Natal, and north-eastern Cape, from where its distribution continues into neighbouring countries.
Temminck's Ground Pangolin (Manis temminckii, or Smutsia temminckii if Smutsia is treated as a genus rather than a subgenus) has, like other pangolins, a long muscular tail and horny scales covering its body, which protect it when it rolls up into a ball in a defensive posture. Temminck's Ground Pangolin is found in a wide range of habitat types, but is only found where abundant ants and termites of a few specific types occur, possibly explaining its absence from Ethiopia and West Africa (these insects account for most of the diet). Young Temminck's Ground Pangolins (only one offspring is born at a time) are not very active for the first month or so after birth, but subsequently ride on the mother's back or tail base, slipping onto her belly when alarmed. (Kingdon 1997)
The Temminck's pangolin, or Cape pangolin, has a range similar to a backwards "c" stretching from Chad and Sudan in central Africa, down through Kenya and Tanzania, to the northern parts of South Africa. (Kingdon 1997)
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
The most widespread African pangolin species, recorded from southeastern Chad, through South Sudan, much of East Africa and southern Africa as far south as the Northern Cape and North West Provinces of South Africa and northeast KwaZulu-Natal Province (Swart 2013, APWG unpubl. data). The northern limits of the distribution are not well defined, although the species has been recorded from extreme NE Central African Republic, southeastern Chad and South Sudan (Swart 2013, APWG unpubl. data). They are also confirmed from the Omo River basin region of southwest Ethiopia and so probably do occur, marginally, in the western border regions of Ethiopia (Swart 2013). Their presence in Somalia is doubtful (Swart 2013). Records from West Africa undoubtedly refer to the Giant Ground Pangolin (see Grubb et al. 1998).
This species measures approximately 40 - 70 cm head and body length, and about the same for the tail. Males are larger than the females.
The name of the Order of these animals, Pholidota, means, "scaled animals". The body of the Temminck's pangolin is covered with moveable, sharp scales, except for the snout, chin, throat, sides of the face, and the belly. The coloration of these scales gives this species a dark olive brown look similar to that of a pine cone and helps it to blend into many different surroundings.
Temminck's pangolins have small, pointed heads with small eyes that are protected by specialized thick eyelids. It lacks teeth, but has a very long (up to 25 cm in length and 0.5 cm in diameter) and sticky tongue for catching insects. This species also has a specialized stomach for digesting food items that have not been chewed. It has five long claws on the end of each limb and the tail is prehensile. (Minelli et al. 1997, Macdonald 1985)
Range mass: 7 to 18 kg.
Range length: 40 to 70 cm.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
- Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. London: Academic Press.
- Macdonald, D. 1985. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File, Inc..
- Minelli, A., M. Minelli. 1997. The Great Book of Animals. Philadelphia: Courage Books.
This species will inhabit both high- and low-rainfall habitats, including forests, thick brush, or open grasslands and savannah.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest
Habitat and Ecology
A predominantly solitary, terrestrial species that inhabits mainly savanna woodland in low-lying regions with moderate to dense scrub where average annual rainfall is between 250 mm and 1,400 mm. Also occurs in floodplain grassland, rocky slopes and sandveld up to 1,700 m asl (Coulson 1989, Pietersen 2013, APWG unpubl. data), but does not inhabit forest or desert. It occurs widely on well-managed livestock farms where it is afforded protection from human persecution, but is absent from croplands.
Temminck's Ground Pangolins are largely water independent but will drink from free-standing water when it is available (Stuart 1980, D. Pietersen pers. comm. 2013). The most important habitat requirements are a sufficient population of the various ant and termite prey species and the availability of dens or above-ground debris in which to shelter. The female gives birth to a single young after a gestation period of approximately 105-140 days; females give birth to one young per year, rarely twins (van Ee 1966, Pietersen unpubl. data). Adults come together briefly to mate and the offspring remains with the mother for the first three months, and occasionally with the father for a further month. Young start dispersing when about one year old (Pietersen et al. in prep.).
There are very little data on the longevity of any pangolin species in the wild, making estimates of generation length difficult. Based on available growth rates, the relative late onset of the start of reproduction, the slow reproductive rate (one young per year), and longevity of the sympatric aardvark Orycteropus afer, which has a similar ecology and life history, Ground Pangolins are expected to be relatively long-lived, perhaps surviving for 20 years or more in the wild (D. Pietersen pers. comm.).
The diet of the Temminck's pangolin consists mainly of termites and ants, with an occasional larvae or other soft bodied insect. Ant or termite hills are discovered through the pangolin's keen sense of smell, then dismantled by its long and powerful forelimbs. The pangolin then catches the fleeing insects by flicking its long tongue in and out. It has no teeth, so the stomach has exceptionally thick muscular walls for crushing the food items, which are swallowed whole. A pangolin may also swallow stones and store them in the stomach to aid in the crushing part of the digestion. (Nowak 1999)
Animal Foods: insects
Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore )
Temminck's pangolins are important predators of colonial insects in the ecosystems in which they live.
Pangolins use their thick, keratinized scales and powerful muscles to roll their bodies into nearly impenetrable balls. Few predators will try to capture them, although some large predators may.
Known prey organisms
Life History and Behavior
Pangolins have an excellent sense of smell, used to find their insect prey. Little is known about intraspecific communication, but they are likely to use smells, visual cues, sounds, and touch.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Individuals live a solitary life, only joining others during mating. Because of their excellent sense of smell, the social interactions of pangolins revolve around advertisement through the spreading of feces and the marking of trees with either urine or a secretion from an anal gland. Males may also battle fiercely for the opportunity to mate with a female.
Mating System: polygynous
Temminck's pangolins have a gestation period of about 139 days, resulting in usually one young weighing 200 - 500 grams. They are born in an underground natural shelter, and are first carried outside on the mother's back or tail at between 2 and 4 weeks of age. The young begin to harvest their own food by 3 months of age, but are still carried until they are approximately 3 kg. The females breed at any time of the year, even if they are currently rearing young. (Kingdon 1997, Macdonald 1985)
Breeding interval: The interbirth interval is unknown.
Breeding season: Pangolins breed throughout the year.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average gestation period: 139 days.
Average weaning age: 3 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); viviparous
Female pangolins care exclusively for their young, nursing, carrying, and protecting them until they have nearly reached adult size.
Parental Investment: female parental care
- Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. London: Academic Press.
- Macdonald, D. 1985. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File, Inc..
Temminck's pangolins are vulnerable to population decreases because of their great economic value to humans and habitat loss to agriculture. In addition to being killed for their flesh and scales, they have several predators including lions and hyenas, are subject to brush fires, and may become electrocuted in areas where such fencing exists. (Kingdon 1997)
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Listed as Vulnerable under criteria A4d because there is an inferred past/ongoing and projected future population reduction of 30-40% over a 27 year period (nine years past, 18 years future; generation length estimated at nine years) based primarily on ongoing exploitation for traditional medicine and bushmeat throughout the species' range and evidence of increased intercontinental trade to Asia. True rates of decline are imperfectly known, and may well be slightly below the 30% threshold (in which case Near Threatened would be more appropriate), although it is unlikely that declines would exceed 50%. The assessors have chosen to take a precautionary approach in listing the species as Vulnerable, especially considering the burgeoning demand for pangolins in the Asian markets, the resultant precipitous decline in the Asian pangolin populations and the unquantified levels of both local and international trade (both known to be increasing). Further research into the levels of trade and status of this species is urgently required.
- 1996Lower Risk/near threatened(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
Date Listed: 06/14/1976
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Africa
Population location: Africa
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Manis temminckii , see its USFWS Species Profile
Their inconspicuous nature has resulted in their abundance being historically underestimated throughout their range. For example, in South Africa, there were only 73 reported sightings of S. temminckii in the Kruger National Park over a period of 20 years (Swart 2013). Advances in technology and greater awareness have resulted in an increase in the number of pangolin sightings being reported in recent years (D. Pietersen pers. comm.2013). Their estimated total density in the Kruger National Park region is 0.12 individuals/km2 (Swart 2013) and the estimated density in the Gokwe district of Zimbabwe was 0.11 individuals/km2 (Heath and Coulson 1997). However populations in Zimbabwe are thought to have decreased since this time (L. Hywood pers. comm. 2013). In the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, densities have been calculated at 0.11 reproductively active individuals/km2 and overall densities at 0.22 individuals/km2 (Pietersen 2013). Abundance in other regions of Africa is not known.
Although present in a number of protected areas across their range, and protected by law in most range countries, S. temminckii numbers are declining due to the demand for their body parts and scales for bushmeat, medicinal purposes and superstitious value (Coulson 1985, Bräutigam et al. 1994, Swart 2013).
Over-exploitation of Temminck's Ground Pangolin for medicinal use is occurring in South Africa and is increasingly focused on core conservation areas (Cunningham and Zondi 1991, A. Baiyewu unpubl. data).
There has been a sharp increase in the number of Temminck's Ground Pangolins seized from illegal trade since 2010 (Pietersen et al. in prep.). Although the final market for these individuals is unknown, many were confiscated in ports and high-end suburbs, suggesting that at least some of these individuals were likely destined for international markets or for local consumption by foreigners.
A number of seizures of African pangolins or their body parts in Asia (or en route to Asia) provide evidence of an intercontinental trade in African pangolins to Asia (Challender and Hywood 2012). The demand for, and price of, pangolin products in Asia is increasing, while the supply from the Asian species is decreasing. As syndicates smuggling pangolins (and rhino horn/ivory) from Africa to Asia become ever more sophisticated it is highly probable that African pangolin species will become more important as source populations for the Asian markets.
Temminck's Ground Pangolins are regularly electrocuted on the lower strands of electric fences in South Africa in particular (Pietersen 2013), but also throughout their range where electrified fences are prevalent. The mortality rate for South Africa is estimated at 2-13 % of the total population per annum (Pietersen et al. in prep.). Road mortalities in South Africa may also be having a negative impact on the species (D. Pietersen pers. comm.). In South Africa and Namibia there is also accidental bycatch from gin traps set for other species, while in Zimbabwe substantial habitat alteration and loss of protected areas due to changes in the land use systems over the past 15 years is likely to have further impacted populations (L. Hywood pers. comm.). Elsewhere in Africa local and international trade and habitat loss are the main threats, although reports of accidental electrocutions have also been received from Rwanda (APWG unpubl. data).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no adverse effects of pangolins on humans.
Temminck's pangolins are killed by natives in Africa for their scales and meat. The scales are taken for use in various jewelry and art. They are exported to China where the scales are prized for their supposed medicinal value as an antiseptic. The skins are also sent legally to the United States and other countries for the manufacture of leather goods, such as boots and shoes. (Nowak 1999)
Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material; source of medicine or drug
The ground pangolin (Manis temminckii), also known as Temminck's pangolin or the Cape pangolin, is one of four species of pangolins which can be found in Africa, and the only one in southern and eastern Africa. The animal was named for the Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck.
With the exception of the underside, it is covered in extremely hard scales composed of keratin, the same material that forms human hair and fingernails. When threatened, it usually will roll up into a ball thus protecting its vulnerable belly. The scales on the tail can also be used as blades to slash at attackers.
The ground pangolin can grow to a length of about 1 m, with the tail typically between 30 and 50 cm. It has a disproportionately small head, powerful hindlegs, and small forelegs. Capable of walking on two legs, the ground pangolin walks on its hindlegs when searching for food while using its forelegs and tail for balance.
Like other pangolin species it is largely nocturnal, although it is also entirely terrestrial, and usually found in savanna or open woodland. It is well adapted to a diet of ants and termites, possessing a keen sense of smell and a very long (up to 50 cm) sticky tongue that extends deep into its abdominal cavity. Although it is capable of digging its own burrow, the ground pangolin prefers to occupy those abandoned by warthogs or aardvarks or to lie in dense vegetation, making it even more difficult to observe.
The ground pangolin is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List: “there is an inferred past/ongoing and projected future population reduction of 30-40% over a 27 year period (nine years past, 18 years future; generation length estimated at nine years) based primarily on ongoing exploitation for traditional medicine and bushmeat throughout the species' range and evidence of increased intercontinental trade to Asia.” All eight extant pangolin species are now considered to be threatened with extinction, largely due to habitat loss and poaching for meat and traditional Chinese medicine.
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- Schlitter, D. A. (2005). Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M, eds. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 531. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Pietersen, D., Waterman, C., Hywood, L., Rankin, P. & Soewu, D. (2014). "Manis temminckii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2014-09-04.
- "Pangolin." African Wildlife Foundation. Web. 5 Sept. 2014. <http://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/pangolin>
- Pangolin Specialist Group (2014). Website of the IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group <http://www.pangolinsg.org>
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