• White-bellied pangolins (Phataginus tricuspis) are mammals with a number of interesting adaptations. These pangolins have sharp, overlapping scales, and they protect themselves by curling up into a scale-covered ball. They have a long, prehensile tail and clawed feet to help them move in the high branches of trees. Pangolins also have several adaptations that help them feed on termites and ants, which make up the bulk of their diet. They can extend their long tongue up to 25 centimeters (about 10 inches), making it easier for them to access the ants and termites. They also have thick eyelids that provide protection from the bites of their  preferred prey. Similarly, they can close off their nostrils and ears when feeding.

    White-bellied pangolins are found in West Africa and Central Africa and as far south as northwestern Zambia and Angola. They are found in 22 countries in this region. Though they are located in Africa and are hunted there for their meat, one of the biggest threats to this species comes from Asia. Pangolin scales are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine. Of the four pangolin species found in Asia, two are listed as endangered and two as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in part due to overhunting. Growing economic ties between Asia and Africa seem to be contributing to an increasing illegal trade of wildlife. Pangolins are thought to be one of the world’s most trafficked animals, and the African species are increasingly traded along this route. Protections are in place to protect the white-bellied pangolin, but more aggressive measures are likely needed. In 2016, a number of countries agreed to completely ban international trade in pangolins.

    1. The wildlife trade has been affected by growing economic ties between Africa and Asia. What are some factors that might be contributing to these growing ties?

      There are a number of factors that have contributed to these growing economic ties. Africa and Asia are the world’s two fastest-growing economies. Also, wealth has increased greatly in China in recent years, leading to more disposable income for many. Complex trade agreements also play a role.

    2. In 2016, a number of countries agreed to ban trade in pangolins. Why are international agreements important for the conservation of endangered species?

      International agreements are important for many reasons. In some cases, the endangered species are found in more than one country, so those nations need to work together to create reserves and other protected areas and to ensure that any legal protections extend throughout the animal’s range. In other cases, such as the African pangolin species, international trade can play a role in a species’ demise. In those cases, it is important for the countries where the endangered species is found to work with countries where that species is in demand to stop the trade from contributing to overhunting.

    3. Pangolins have adaptations for defense, to aid in eating insects, and for living in trees. What are some other animals that have similar adaptations?

      Answers will vary. Anteaters also have a long tongue and snout adapted for eating ants and termites. Many animals have adapted for defense. One similar example is the turtle, which retreats into its shell for protection. Pill bugs or sow bugs curl up into a ball to protect their soft bellies when attacked. There are also many adaptations for arboreal living. New world monkeys, for example, have long tails that they use for hanging and moving about tree branches. Many animals have adapted claws for scaling trees, including squirrels and martens.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adaptation Noun

    a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: adaptation
    critically endangered Noun

    level of conservation between "endangered" and "extinct in the wild."

    endangered species Noun

    organism threatened with extinction.

    Encyclopedic Entry: endangered species
    traditional Chinese medicine Noun

    system of medicine established approximately 2,200 years ago that strives to prevent or cure disease by maintaining or balancing a body's energy, or chi (qi).