Phataginus tricuspis 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Pholidota Manidae

Scientific Name: Phataginus tricuspis (Rafinesque, 1821)
Common Name(s):
English White-bellied Pangolin, African White-bellied Pangolin, Three-cusped Pangolin, Tree Pangolin
French Pangolin à écailles tricuspides, Pangolin commun, Tricuspide
Manis tricuspis Rafinesque, 1821
Taxonomic Source(s): Gaudin, T.J., Emry, R.J. and Wible, J.R. 2009. The phylogeny of living and extinct pangolins (Mammalia, Pholidota) and associated taxa: A morphology based analysis. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 16: 235-305.
Taxonomic Notes: Included in Manis by many authors (with Phataginus sometimes considered a subgenus), but here placed in the genus Phataginus following Gaudin et al. (2009). Meester and Setzer (1972) recognized two distinct subspecies, Manis t. tricuspis and M. t. mabirae (Uganda), with the latter considered distinct. No subspecies are considered here in line with Kingdon and Hoffman (2013).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A4d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2013-06-27
Assessor(s): Waterman, C., Pietersen, D., Soewu, D., Hywood, L. & Rankin, P.
Reviewer(s): Hoffmann, M.
Contributor(s): Hoffmann, M., Akpona, H. & Wood, K.
This species is listed as Vulnerable under criteria A4d because it is reasonable to assume that this species has already begun declining and will continue to decline by at least 40% over a 21 year period (seven years past, 14 years future) due mainly to the impact of bushmeat hunting and an increased demand from the international markets, as Asian pangolin populations decline, smuggling syndicates become more sophisticated and economic ties between Africa and China strengthen (mirroring dramatic increases in intercontinental trade for ivory and rhino horn). A generation length of seven years has been used for this assessment; however, it should be noted that there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding this estimate and further research into the life history of this species is required in order to make a more informed estimate of generation length.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

This species ranges from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa through Guinea, Sierra Leone and much of West Africa to Central Africa as far east as south-western Kenya and north-western Tanzania (west of Lake Tanganyika) and as far south as north-western Zambia and northern Angola; also on Bioko (Kingdon and Hoffmann 2013, APWG unpubl. data). There are no confirmed records from Senegal or The Gambia (Grubb et al. 1998).

Countries occurrence:
Angola; Benin; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Equatorial Guinea (Bioko, Equatorial Guinea (mainland)); Gabon; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Nigeria; Rwanda; Sierra Leone; South Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Uganda; Zambia
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


This is the most common of the African forest pangolins, reaching relatively high densities in suitable habitat (Kingdon and Hoffmann 2013). It is regarded as the most common of the three pangolin species found in Gabon (Pagès 1975) and Nigeria (Angelici et al. 1999). A study in Lama Forest Reserve (South Benin) recorded 38 White-bellied Pangolins at a density of 0.84/km2 during the dry season (Akpona et al. 2008).

The species is believed to be declining in Ghana and Guinea, and close to extinction in Rwanda (Bräutigam et al. 1994). Soewu and Ayodele (2009) report that 92% of traditional Yorubic-medical practitioners among the Awori people in Ogun State, Nigeria, believe that the abundance of pangolins is steadily decreasing while more than 97% reported a continuous decline in the size of pangolins caught. D. Soewu (pers. comm. 2013) similarly reports a decline in both the size and abundance of this species in Nigeria, while also noticing decreasing numbers of this species in bushmeat markets and a concomitant increase in the prevalence of Black-bellied Pangolins, Phataginus tetradactyla, in these markets, suggesting that the White-bellied Pangolin is becoming increasingly scarce. These perceived population declines are worrying in the light of the low reproductive potential of this species.

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

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:This species occurs predominantly in moist tropical lowland forests and secondary growth, but also occurs in dense woodlands, especially along water courses (Kingdon 1971, Gaubert 2011). Sodeinde and Adedipe (1994) noted that White-bellied Pangolins were often caught on abandoned or little-used oil palm trees in secondary growth. This suggests that the species can adapt to at least some degree of habitat modification. In south Nigeria this species was widespread in both primary and secondary rainforests, altered forests (bush) and in farmlands (agricultural areas of former lowland rainforests) (Angelici et al. 1999). However, recent evidence suggests that this species is becoming increasingly scarce in Nigeria (D. Soewu pers. comm. 2013). A study in Lama Forest Reserve in Benin found no significant difference in population densities between plantations and natural forest, and the authors suggested that the distribution of White-bellied Pangolins in the reserve may be more sensitive to forest age than to its composition (Akpona et al. 2008). White-bellied Pangolins are predominantly nocturnal and equally at home in trees and on the ground (Pagès 1975). The species feeds exclusively on ants and termites. Breeding is continuous. The gestation period is approximately 150 days, after which the female gives birth to a single young, which is carried by the female (Kingdon and Hoffmann 2013).
Generation Length (years):7
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

Phataginus tricuspis is subject to widespread and often intensive exploitation for bushmeat and traditional medicine on a local and regional scale within Africa (e.g. Anadu et al. 1988, Fa et al. 2006). Bräutigam et al. (1994) reported it to be by far the most common of the pangolins found for sale in African bushmeat markets. Anadu et al. (1988) identified White-bellied and Black-bellied Pangolins as the second most expensive bushmeat in Nigeria in 1982. In Gabon, a total of 120 White-bellied Pangolins were observed for sale at four bushmeat markets throughout the country during 1993 (Steel 1994). Although pangolins were consistently one of the least commonly sold meats, comprising less than five percent of the total sales overall, consumer demand was relatively high. According to traders, White-bellied Pangolin meat was the third most requested item, and of 206 consumers interviewed, 10% regarded pangolins as their preferred type of bushmeat. 

Akpona et al. (2008) recorded that some organs, such as the skin, heart, intestines and head, are used for treating asthma and cardiovascular and dermatological issues. Many of the reported medicinal properties of pangolin parts are based on the use of scales and their derivatives; consequently the value of scales (as opposed to meat) appears to be very high (Bräutigam et al. 1994). Sodeinde and Adedipe (1994) report that medicinal use, or juju, appears to be more important than food in southwestern Nigeria. Following market surveys and interviews with hunters, they recorded that White-bellied Pangolin scales and other parts were worn as charms and ornaments and also processed into medicinal compounds, whilst the flesh is eaten and also used for juju. A study investigating the utilisation of pangolins in traditional Yorubic medicine in SW Nigeria recorded that White-bellied Pangolins were used to treat a total of 42 medical conditions, including infertility, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatism, venereal diseases and back pain. They were also believed to confer invisibility and remove bad luck, as well as being used as love potions, and for appeasing/warding off witches or evil spirits. Some of these uses specifically required juvenile or even pregnant females (Soewu and Ayodele 2009). Angelici et al. (1999b) have reported that the dried tail of the White-bellied Pangolin is sometimes used to mark and tattoo human skin during the initiation of young unmarried women in some bush-hamlets in SE Nigeria.

Evidence from recent customs seizures suggests a burgeoning intercontinental trade in African pangolins to Asian markets, particularly China and Viet Nam, where they are consumed as a luxury dish and/or used in traditional medicine. Challender and Hywood (2012) report a seizure in 2011 comprising 100 White-bellied Pangolin skins (with scales attached) that originated in Guinea and was bound for Thailand. A recent seizure of whole, smoked Phataginus tricuspis carcasses together with other bushmeat in Zurich, Switzerland (Kathy Wood unpubl. data) indicates this country as a conduit to the Asian markets, or that bushmeat is also being traded to European countries to supply the expatriate communities here. Challender and Hywood (2012) warned that intercontinental trade, if not the case already, is set to be a major threat to Africa’s pangolins in the near future.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

While known to occur in a number of protected areas throughout its range, White-bellied Pangolins are subject to widespread and often intensive exploitation for bushmeat and traditional medicine, and are by far the most common of the pangolins found in African bushmeat markets. Fa et al. (2006) report that during the course of six months fieldwork in Cameroon in 2002-2003, the White-bellied Pangolin was the fourth most harvested species across 47 sites sampled, after the Brush-tailed Porcupine Atherurus africanus, Blue Duiker Philantomba monticola and Giant Pouched Rat Cricetomys emini. Similarly, in a study in Equatorial Guinea around the village of Sendje (including within Monte Alén National Park), it was the fifth most common mammal species in terms of offtake after the Blue Duiker, Brush-tailed Porcupine, Black Colobus Colobus satanus and Giant Pouched Rat (Kümpel 2006). Bräutigam et al. (1994) report that despite pangolin being one of the least commonly sold meats (less than 5% of overall sales) consumer demand for pangolins is high in Gabon, with White-bellied Pangolin meat being the third most requested item at bushmeat markets. White-bellied Pangolins have doubled in price in Nigerian bushmeat markets over the past 20 years and, over the past 10 years, the proportion of White-bellied Pangolins compared with other pangolin species being sold in Nigerian bushmeat markets has decreased (D. Soewu pers. comm. 2013). These trends suggest increased demand for the species and/or indicate that White-bellied Pangolins are harder to obtain, probably as a result of population declines.

The number of pangolins sold for traditional medicine and cultural practices is huge and most likely unsustainable considering the reproductive biology of this species (D. Soewu pers. comm. 2013). For example, Soewu and Ayodele (2009) reported a total of 178 whole White-bellied Pangolins being sold for traditional medicine amongst the Ijebus of Ogun State, South-western Nigeria between April and July 2007, which averaged 1.06 carcasses per dealer per month. Sodeinde and Adepipe (1994) also noted that pangolins used in traditional medicine in south-western Nigeria are exclusively White-bellied Pangolins, the Black-bellied Pangolin being much rarer. Pregnant females and juveniles are preferred for some practices (D. Soewu pers. comm. 2013).

White-bellied Pangolins are recorded in international trade (Bräutigam et al. 1994, Challender and Hywood 2012, Kathy Wood unpubl. data): according to CITES trade reports, during the period 1996 to 2011, 30 live animals were exported from Togo in 1996, 16 in 2002, 16 in 2007, and 25 in 2008 ( The scale of illegal international trade, including to Asian markets, is certainly much greater. For example, Challender and Hywood (2012) report that in 2011 one confiscated consignment comprised 100 White-bellied Pangolin skins (with scales attached) that had originated in Guinea and was bound for Thailand. Documented pangolin seizures undoubtedly account for only a small fraction of actual trade levels based on the low detection rates associated with wildlife trade (Challender and Hywood 2012).

Habitat loss and degradation is likely to be another threat to this species, especially in West Africa (L. Hywood pers. comm. 2013).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

While the White-bellied Pangolin is listed on Appendix II of CITES, there is a need to develop and enforce protective legislation in many range states. Vigilance by Customs authorities and efforts in the field to prevent the extraction of White-bellied Pangolins must be increased. Research into the population status of this species in different habitats incorporating more comprehensive studies of population parameters and its ability to withstand hunting pressure is required, along with more in-depth research into the levels of demand and utilization posed by the local markets. Similarly, research needs to be undertaken on intercontinental trade, given the potential magnitude of the threat posed by the Asian markets, especially considering the precipitous decline in the Asian pangolin populations driven by high demands in the region, in particular China, and the growing economic ties between Africa and China (Challender and Hywood 2012). In June 2012, the EU SRG banned the importation of White-bellied Pangolins to the EU based on concerns about the sustainability of trade volumes of this species from Guinea.

Citation: Waterman, C., Pietersen, D., Soewu, D., Hywood, L. & Rankin, P. 2014. Phataginus tricuspis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T12767A45223135. . Downloaded on 25 September 2018.
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