Smutsia temminckii 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Pholidota Manidae

Scientific Name: Smutsia temminckii (Smuts, 1832)
Common Name(s):
English Temminck's Ground Pangolin, Cape Pangolin, Ground Pangolin, Scaly Anteater, South African Pangolin, Steppe Pangolin
French Pangolin de Temminck, Pangolin terrestre du Cap
Spanish Pangolín del Cabo
Manis temminckii Smuts, 1832
Taxonomic Notes: Included in Manis by most authors (with Smutsia usually considered a subgenus) and referred to Phataginus by Grubb et al. (1998), but here included in the genus Smutsia, along with the Giant Ground Pangolin S. gigantea following Gaudin et al. (2009).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A4d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2013-06-27
Assessor(s): Pietersen, D., Waterman, C., Hywood, L., Rankin, P. & Soewu, D.
Reviewer(s): Hoffmann, M.
Contributor(s): Hoffmann, M., Baiyewu, A. & Jansen, R.

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.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

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). 

Countries occurrence:
Botswana; Central African Republic; Chad; Kenya; Malawi; Mozambique; Namibia; Rwanda; South Africa; South Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Possibly extinct:
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


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.

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

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.). 

Generation Length (years):9

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

The species is eaten as bushmeat to various extents across its range (e.g. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania). Of greater threat is overexploitation for body parts and scales which have superstitious value and are used for medicinal purposes.

In Tanzania Temminck’s Ground Pangolins are sometimes referred to as Bwana mganga ('the doctor') because every body part is believed to have some medicinal value (Wright 1954). Many East African people believe that burning pangolin scales keeps away lions (Kingdon 1971). Across their range the scales are widely believed to bring good luck and to bring rain, while smoke from burning scales is said to improve the health of cattle and cure persistent nose-bleeding. The isiZulu believe that seeing a pangolin indicates that there will be a drought, and the only way to prevent the drought is by killing the animal (Kyle 2000). Scales are also used as talismans and in traditional dress (Kyle 2000, Manwa and Ndamba 2011).

In Zimbabwe it is traditionally a good omen to catch and present Temminck's Ground Pangolins to a superior such as a local chief, and hundreds of individuals were captured and presented to the Zimbabwean president and other authority figures at the onset of majority rule in Zimbabwe (Coulson 1985, L. Hywood, pers. comm.). 

Between 2000 and 2012 there have been at least 19 seizures of S. temminckii in Africa, each comprising one individual (Challender and Hywood 2012). There have been at least 79 confiscations in southern Africa between 2010 and 2013, with the annual number of confiscations displaying an exponential increase (APWG, unpubl. data). Increasingly, the nature and circumstances surrounding seizures suggest links to intercontinental trade rather than to local use (Challender and Hywood 2012).  For instance, an individual seized in Zimbabwe in May 2012 had had most of its scales removed, which deviates from the local practice of muthi, where the animal is kept alive and its scales removed as and when needed for medicinal purposes. In the past two years, the value of a Temminck's Ground Pangolin in Zimbabwe has increased from USD 5,000 to USD 7,000 (Challender and Hywood 2012).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

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).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Although locally extirpated in some areas, Temminck's Ground Pangolin occurs in many national parks and other protected areas (e.g. Kruger National Park, South Africa). While it is listed on Appendix II of CITES and is protected in most range states, there is a need to develop and enforce protective legislation over much of its range. Projects should be initiated to investigate current population densities, distribution range and rate of population decline through anthropogenic influences. These should be coupled with research into the scale of inter-continental trade in this species. Mitigation measures are also needed to reduce the number of pangolins being electrocuted on electrified fences.

Citation: Pietersen, D., Waterman, C., Hywood, L., Rankin, P. & Soewu, D. 2014. Smutsia temminckii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T12765A45222717. . Downloaded on 21 September 2018.
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