Found across Asia and Africa, pangolins are an elusive group of mammals uniquely covered in a tough, scaly skin. When threatened, they roll into a tight ball with their scales forming a protective layer of armor. Although invincible in the wild, pangolins produce high and oftentimes fatal levels of stress under captivity. High demand for their scales in traditional Asian medicine and for their meat in China and Vietnam have made them the most trafficked mammal in the world. After being ground into a powder, pangolin scales are sold as alleged treatments for various ailments ranging from asthma to arthritis. And, despite being illegal, the practice of serving pangolin meat, which is considered a luxurious delicacy, is highly prevalent and barely concealed in parts of Asia. As a result of this, all eight species of pangolins face extinction from poaching.
Due to their preference for solitude and their secretive, nocturnal nature, scientists have found it hard to study pangolins in the wild. What they do know, though, is that that’s where these creatures thrive. Not only do pangolins have a range of defenses to protect themselves from predators (including curling up into a ball, hissing, puffing, and ejecting a foul-smelling liquid), but they also live off a diet high in protein and fat that is difficult to maintain in captivity. As much as they thrive in the wild, pangolins suffer when held in confinement. If not killed before, most wild pangolins die within the first 200 days of captivity due to poor acceptance of their substituted diet and stress.
The Pangolin Crisis Fund
The Pangolin Crisis Fund was launched in 2019 to fund projects designed to save the pangolins. The Pangolin Crisis Fund aims to eliminate the widespread trafficking and poaching of pangolins by strengthening agencies that protect pangolins, developing anti-trafficking tools, forming policies to reduce illegal trade, raising awareness, and working with local communities to conserve their habitats. The organization is managed by the Wildlife Conservation Network with technical oversight by Save Pangolins and support from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. They follow the same principles of the Wildlife Conservation Network and Recovery Funds and are governed by expert advisors in the field of conservation and philanthropy.