Distribution of the tree pangolin
The tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) is one of eight extant species of pangolins ("scaly anteaters"), and is native to equatorial Africa. Also known as the white-bellied pangolin or three-cusped pangolin, it is the most common of the African forest pangolins.
Phataginus tricuspis is a relatively small pangolin. The combined head and body length is 33–43 cm (13–17 in). The tail is 49–62 cm (19–24 in). Each scale has three points, to which the specific name tricuspis refers. The head is small, and the snout is elongated. The feet are short, and each foot has five long curved claws.
Range and habitat
The tree pangolin ranges from Guinea through Sierra Leone and much of West Africa to Central Africa as far east as extreme southwestern Kenya and northwestern Tanzania. To the south, it extends to northern Angola and northwestern Zambia. It has been found on the Atlantic island of Bioko, but no records confirm a presence in Senegal, Gambia, or Guinea-Bissau.
The tree pangolin is semiarboreal and generally nocturnal. It is found in lowland tropical moist forests (both primary and secondary), as well as savanna/forest mosaics. It probably adapts to some degree to habitat modification, as it favours cultivated and fallow land where it is not aggressively hunted (e.g., abandoned or little-used oil palm trees in secondary growth).
The tree pangolin can walk on all fours or on its hind legs using its prehensile tail for balance. It can climb up trees in the absence of branches. When walking on all fours, it walks on its front knuckles with its claws tucked underneath to protect them from wearing down. Its anal scent glands disperse a foul secretion much like a skunk when threatened. It has a well-developed sense of smell, but as a nocturnal animal, it has poor eyesight. Instead of teeth, it has a gizzard-like stomach full of stones and sand it ingests. The tree pangolin in Africa fills its stomach with air before entering water to aid in buoyancy for well-developed swimming.
The tree pangolin has many adaptations. When threatened, it rolls up into a ball, protecting itself with its thick skin and scales. Its scales cover its entire body except for the belly, snout, eyes, ears, and undersides of the limbs. When a mother with young is threatened, she rolls up around the young, which also roll into a ball. While in a ball, she can extend her scales and make a cutting action by using muscles to move the scales back and forth. She makes an aggressive huff noise when threatened, but that is the extent of her noise-making.
The tree pangolin eats insects such as ants and termites from their nests, or the armies of insects moving on the trees. It relies on its thick skin for protection, and digs into burrows with its long, clawed forefeet. It eats between 5 and 7 ounces (150 to 200 g) of insects a day. The pangolin uses its 10- to 27-in (250- to 700-mm) tongue which is coated with gummy mucus to funnel the insects into its mouth. The tongue is actually sheathed in the chest cavity all the way to the pelvic area.
Female pangolin territories are solitary and small, less than 10 acres (4 ha), and they rarely overlap. Males have larger territories, up to 60 acres (24 ha), which overlap many female territories, resulting in male/female meetings. These meetings are brief unless the female is in estrus, when mating occurs. Gestation of young lasts 150 days, and one young per birth is normal. The young pangolin is carried on its mother's tail until it is weaned after three months, but it remains with its mother for five months in total. At first, the newborn's scales are soft, but, after a few days, they start to harden.
Use by humans
The tree pangolin is subject to widespread and often intensive exploitation for bushmeat and traditional medicine, and is by far the most common of the pangolins found in African bushmeat markets. Conservationists believe this species underwent a decline of 20–25% between 1993 and 2008 (three pangolin generations) due mainly to the impact of the bushmeat hunting. They assert it continues to be harvested at unsustainable levels in some of its range, and by 2008 had elevated its status from "Least Concern" to "Near Threatened".
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- Allen and Loveridge, 1942
- Tree pangolins are native to parts of Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia. They may be present in Burundi.
- Pangolin Specialist Group (2008). Phataginus tricuspis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.