Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica)



This species ranges over much of mainland Southeast Asia, from Southern Myanmar through Central and Southern Lao PDR, much of Thailand, Central and Southern Vietnam, Cambodia, to Peninsular Malaysia, to Sumatra, Java and adjacent islands (Indonesia) to Borneo (Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei) (Schlitter 2005). The Northern and Western limits of its range are poorly known. It has been recorded from sea level up to 1,700 m asl.

This species is distributed in Southern Myanmar (Corbet and Hill 1992; Salter 1983), but is absent from lowland areas due to human agricultural expansion and hunting (Duckworth pers. comm.2006).

The species historically occurred throughout Thailand (Lekagul and McNeely 1977; Bain and Humphrey 1982; WCMC et al. 1999), but has since been lost from much of the lowland areas due to human agricultural expansion and hunting (J.W. Duckworth and R. Steinmitz pers. comm.2006).

In Vietnam, there are records from throughout the central and southern parts of the country. There are older records from Kontum Province, Tay Ninh Province and Quang Nam Province (Bourret 1942; Peenen et al. 1969). There are more recent records (summarised by (Newton 2007)) from: Ha Tinh Province (Timmins and Cuong 1999); Kein Giang and Ca Mau Provinces (in U Minh Thuong National Park) (CARE, 2004); Dong Nai, Bin Phuoc and Lam Dong Provinces (Cat Tien National Park) (Murphy and Phan 2001); Quang Binh (Le et al. 1997b); and Dak Lak (Le et al. 1997a; Dang et al. 1995).

The species is evidently widespread in Lao PDR, with recent records from a wide range of areas below around 600 m altitude, with the possibility that in Lao PDR the species is restricted to the Mekong plain and adjacent foothills to around 900 m, with a possible occurrence on the Bolaven Plateau, including Xe Pian National Biodiversity Conservation Area in the south at least as far north as Nam Kading (Deuve and Deuve 1963; Duckworth et al. 1999; J.W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2006).

The species is widespread in Peninsular Malaysia, primarily in forest, but also in gardens and plantations, including rubber (Medway 1977). It is also found on the island of Penang.

The species is still found in the wild in Singapore (CITES 2000; Lim and Ng 2007).

This species is reportedly widespread on Borneo, from sea level to 1,700 m on Mount Kinabalu in Sabah (Payne et al. 1985), although it appears to be absent from the extensive peat swamp forests of Sarawak (CITES 2000). In Sabah, the species is rarely seen, although is evidently widely distributed, being known by local people throughout Sabah (Davies and Payne 1982). The species is presumably present in Brunei (Medway 1977).

In Indonesia, the species is widespread on Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Kiau and Lingga archipelago, Bangka and Belitung, Nias and Pagi islands, Bali, and adjacent islands (Corbet and Hill 1992).

In the northern part of the range, the species probably does not occur not above 600 m asl (J.W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2006). In Sabah it has been recorded up 1,700 m asl (Giman pers. comm. 2006). In Sumatra and Java it is found only up to about 400 m asl (Boeadi pers. comm. 2006), though there is a specimen in the Natural History Museum (London) at 1,500 m asl from Lombok (P. Newton pers. comm.). In the northern parts of its range, the species overlaps with the range of Manis pentadactyla, which is generally said to occupy higher altitudinal habitats, though recent interviews with in Viet Nam suggest that they can be found in the same areas of forest, and that the differences between them are ecological, relating to diet and habitat use, rather than altitude (P. Newton pers. comm.).
Countries: Native:
Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia; Indonesia; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Malaysia; Myanmar; Singapore; Thailand; Vietnam


Virtually no information is available on population levels of any species of Asian pangolins. These species are rarely observed due to their secretive, solitary, and nocturnal habits, and there is not enough research on population densities or global population (WCMC et al. 1999; CITES 2000). There appear to be no comprehensive population estimates available, although records are reportedly rarer in many range states.

It is extremely rare in the northern part of its range (J.W. Duckworth pers. comm.), less so in the southern part (Boeadi pers. comm.). There have been massive declines in the northern part of its range (J.W. Duckworth pers. comm.). It is very common in parts of Singapore (J.W. Duckworth pers. comm.), where Lim and Ng (2007) estimated the range size of one individual, but made no estimate of total population size or density. In Sabah it is relatively common (Han and Giman pers. comm.).
In three areas of Vietnam where interviews were conducted (Khe Net Protected Area, Ke Go Nature Reserve and Song Thanh National Park), hunters reported that populations had massively declined in the last few decades, but particularly since about 1990 when the commercial trade in pangolins began to escalate (Newton 2007). In all three areas, the species was described as now being extremely rare. The intense biodiversity survey effort and extremely limited number of confirmed records of pangolins throughout Viet Nam?s protected areas adds weight to this observation (P. Newton pers. comm.).
In three separate areas within the range of Manis javanica in Lao PDR (Xe Pian, Dong Phou Veng and Khammouan Limestone NBCA), villagers have recently reported that pangolin populations have declined, in some areas to as little as one percent of the level 30 years ago due to hunting (Duckworth et al. 1999).
There is no recent data on the status of this species in Myanmar (WCMC et al. 1999).
M. javanica is considered threatened and becoming increasingly rare in Thailand (Bain and Humphrey 1982; Steinmitz pers. comm. 2006).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Description and Ecology

The skin of its feet is granular, although there are pads on its front feet. Its tail has 30 scales. Head-body length : Up to 65 cm
Tail length : Up to 56 cm
Weight : up to 10 kg
In the past, this species has included the closely related Palawan pangolin (Manis culionensis) as both are in the subgenus Paramanis.It is closely related to the Chinese pangolin, although the Malayan species is larger, lighter in colour and has shorter fore claws. The Sunda pangolin's main predators are the tiger and the clouded leopard.
It has thick and powerful claws to dig into the soils in search of ant nests or to tear into termite mounds. Nocturnal in habits, the Pangolin will rest by day in burrows and tree holes. The species is also an adept climber, aided by its prehensile tail : it is also known to hide by day amongst the foliage of large epiphytes such as the Bird's Nest Fern. The nose is fleshy and possess a strong sense of smell. It has no teeth. Instead, its long, sticky tongue helps it collect ants and termites. Its body is covered by rows of scales and fibrous hair. Head-body length of pangolin is up to 65 cm, tail length is up to 56 cm and its weight is up to 10 kg. Males are larger than females. Its other common name is Scaly Anteater : it feeds wholly on ants and termites, which it locates by its strong sense of smell. It possesses thick, powerful claws which it uses to dig into the soil in search of ant nests or to tear into termite mounds. The insects are gathered with its long, sticky tongue and swallowed whole - the Pangolin has no need for teeth. It is estimated that on average a Pangolin might eat around 200,000 ants or termites per day.


Pangolins give birth annually to one or two offspring. They breed in the autumn, and females give birth in the winter burrow. Parental care will be given for about three months. and the infants are carried astride the base of the mother's tail until such time as they are independent. Pangolins are sometimes found in pairs, but normally are solitary, nocturnal and behave timidly. They protect their soft underparts by rolling into balls when they feel threatened. They are strong diggers and will make burrows lined with vegetation for insulation near termite mounds and ant nests.


Pangolins are hunted for their skins, scales and meat. Their parts are used for medicinal purposes. Scales are made into rings as charms against rheumatic fever, and meat is eaten by indigenous peoples. Skinsare also used to make shoes. One of the main importers of pangolin skins from 19801985 was the United States of America.

Major Threat(s):

Threats to Asian pangolins include rapid loss and deterioration of available habitat and hunting for local use and for international trade in skins, scales, and meat. Evidence suggests that pangolins, in general, are able to adapt to modified habitats (e.g., secondary forests), provided their termite food source remains abundant and they are not unduly persecuted. However, whilst secondary habitats may be suitable, on the basis of hunters? reports in Vietnam and the evidence of Lim and Ng (2007) in Singapore, it seems that the availability of tree hollows, which is higher in undisturbed forest, is also extremely important for this species (P. Newton pers. comm.).
The species is intensively used, for its skin, meat and scales, and is evidently subject to heavy collection pressure in many parts of its range. The species may be harvested for local (i.e. national-level) use, as well as for international export either before or after processing. Observations in mainland Southeast Asia indicate that there is very heavy unofficial, or at least unrecorded, international trade in pangolins and pangolin products, although it is not possible at present to disentangle this trade from local use (WCMC et al. 1999; CITES 2000). The majority of utilization and trade data on pangolins in Asia do not distinguish reliably between the Asian species of pangolin (Manis crassicaudata, Manis culionensis, Manis javanica, Manis pentadactyla). The two most commonly traded species (Manis javanica, Manis pentadactyla) have significant populations in some of the same countries (especially Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam), and because both species are imported into China, it is often not possible to determine which species is referred to in both local use and export (WCMCet al. 1999). The lack of accurate population and harvest data across this species? range, makes it difficult to assess the level and impact of harvest. The total from national use and international trade indicate that, at a minimum, several tens of thousands of animals were harvested and traded annually during the 1990s (WCMC et al. 1999). Figures, discussed in detail in Broad et al. (1988) and WCMC and IUCN SSC (1992), indicate that trade of this magnitude also took place at least up until the mid-1980s (e.g. over 185,000 skins reported in international trade by CITES in the period 1980-85 alone). An estimate in the late 1950s and early 1960s indicates that scales of some 10,000 pangolins (Manis javanica) per year were exported from Borneo (Harrison and Loh 1965).
The trade routes and degree are both sophisticated and extensive occurring over land and by sea. Most of the trade concerns Manis javanica, but traders do not distinguish between the species. Scales are used medicinally and the skins are used as a leather, but the medicinal use is greatest. In the past animal parts were used to cure skin diseases, but now it is used in China to cure cancer. The increased wealth in China is leading to a large increase in rates of exploitation of this species. In all of Lao PDR, the population crashed more than 90% in the last 10 years (J.W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2006). More recently, since Lao PDR and Thailand populations have greatly reduced, hunted animals are brought in from Indonesia and large numbers of live animals to be exported to China have been seized (GMA, Indonesia Workshop 2006). Indonesia has been illegally exporting great numbers of live animals, some of which come from east Kalimantan (Semiadi pers. comm. 2006).
The population in the southern part of Thailand crashed because of trade, however, in the western part of Thailand it is more stable due to presence in protected areas (Anak pers. comm. 2006). In the last few years many animals have been confiscated from illegal traders (Han pers. comm. 2006). This species is hunted by specially trained dogs, which can smell it out, making hunting much more effective, such pangolin dogs are highly valued (up to USD 2000) (J.W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2006).

Every hunter interviewed in Vietnam (n = 84) reported that they now sell all pangolins that they catch (P. Newton pers. comm.). Prices are so high that local, subsistence use of pangolins for either meat or their scales has completely halted in favour or selling to the national/international trade (P. Newton pers. comm.). The only occasions on which a hunter might eat a pangolin is if it is already dead when they retrieve it from a trap ? then they would use the meat and sell the scales (P. Newton pers. comm.). The price per kg of pangolin (in Vietnam, at least) has escalated rapidly (at a rate greater than that of annual inflation) since the commercial trade in wild pangolins began to expand in about 1990 (P. Newton pers. comm.). Prices paid to hunters now exceed US$95 per kg (Viet Nam, P. Newton pers. comm.); US$45 per kg (Cambodia, C. Phallika pers. comm. to P. Newton) and US$17 per kg (Indonesia, D. Martyr pers. comm. to P. Newton).

 Conservation Actions:

This species is listed on CITES Appendix II; a zero annual export quota has been established for specimens removed from the wild and traded for primarily commercial purposes. It is protected by national legislation in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It is found in protected areas in its range, but has been hunted out of some protected areas in its range, especially in Thailand (Anak pers. comm.). Much more effective enforcement of existing laws is critical for the conservation of this species (J.W. Duckworth pers. comm.). Some protected areas in Vietnam are heavily trapped for this and other species.
In Singapore, the species is protected under the Wild Animals and Birds Act (Domestic Law) 1904 and Endangered Species Act (Import/Export, CITES Law).
The species is legally protected in Vietnam for Manis javanica.
Manis javanica has been protected in Indonesia since 1931, under Wildlife Protection Ordinance No. 266 of 1931 (promulgated by the Dutch administration), as well as under Act. No. 5 of 1990, regarding Conservation of Natural Resources and Their Ecosystems; Decree of the Minister of Forestry No. 301/kpts-II/1991 and Decree of the Minister of Forestry No. 822/kpts-II/1992.
Manis javanica is completely protected in west Malaysia under the Protection of Wild Life Act, 1972; a protected species, banned from local trade, in Sarawak under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998; and protected in Sabah under the Wildlife Conservation Bill, 1997.
In accordance with the Protection of Wildlife, Wild Plant and Conservation of Natural Areas Act 15(A), M. javanica is categorized as a Completely Protected Animal in Myanmar.
In Thailand, all Manis spp. are classified as Protected Wild Animals under the 1992 Wild Animals Reservation and Protection Act B.E. 2535.
The legal status of pangolins in Lao PDR is unclear, as a result of internal contradictions in Lao PDR laws applicable to wildlife and wildlife trading. However, Provincial and District Agricultural and Forestry Offices in Lao PDR have been confiscating large numbers of pangolins, so there is evidently a perceived legal basis for doing so (WCMC et al. 1999).