Manis pentadactyla


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Manis pentadactyla
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1758
Common Name(s):
English Chinese Pangolin
French Pangolin de Chine, Pangolin à queue courte
Spanish Pangolín Chino

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered A2d+3d+4d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2013-06-26
Assessor(s): Challender, D., Baillie, J., Ades, G., Kaspal, P., Chan, B., Khatiwada, A., Xu, L., Chin, S., KC, R., Nash, H. & Hsieh, H.
Reviewer(s): Duckworth, J.W.
This species is listed as Critically Endangered A2d+3d+4d due to high levels of poaching for meat and scales, both targeted and untargeted, across its range. Although this species has been used locally across its range historically, which continues today, much poaching is now for international trade, driven largely by market demand in China. Over the time frame of three generations (21 years, generation length estimated at seven years) this species has been heavily exploited for international trade based on trade figures, while the subspecies, M. p. pusillia, which occurs on Hainan Island, has been reduced to remnant populations. Evidence indicates that poaching has now shifted to the south and west of this species' range and there has been a very heavy unrecorded and therefore likely illicit trade involving an estimated tens of thousands of animals in international trade in the last decade. There are predicted continuing declines of <90% over the next 21 years or three generations.
2008 Endangered

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species occurs in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, southern Bhutan and north and northeastern India, possibly northeastern Bangladesh, northern and western Myanmar, to northern and Annamite regions of Lao PDR and northern Viet Nam, northwest Thailand, and through southern China (south of the Chiangjiang - the Yangtze River) to Hainan, Taiwan (P.R. China) and Hong Kong SAR. However, it has likely been extirpated from parts of its current range, the limits of which are poorly known and may never be elucidated, due to high levels of exploitation historically. It exists at high altitudes, especially in the southern and western parts of its range, though also occurs at much lower altitudes, for example in Hong Kong and likely in the northeast of its range. Its latitudinal range is thought to overlap considerably with that of Manis javanica, with Manis pentadactyla tending to occur in hills and mountains and the former more generally found at lower altitudes. However, recent interviews with hunters in Viet Nam suggest that the two species 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. 2008).

The species is marginally present in northern India (Bihar) and has been recorded in northeastern India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Sikkim and the northern part of West Bengal) (Srinivasulu and Srinivasulu 2012, Tikader 1983, Zoological Society of India 2002). 

The species occurs in southern Bhutan (though potentially central and western areas only) and Nepal, where it is confined to elevations below approximately 2,000 m asl (Baral and Shah 2008, Mitchell 1975, Srinivasulu and Srinivasulu 2012). It has been recorded as present in the Suklaphanta wildlife reserve in southwest Nepal within the last four years and in Jajarkot district in mid-west Nepal (H.S. Baral pers. comm. 2013). 

This species has been recorded in north and central Lao PDR, however, there are too few locality records to determine the geographic and altitudinal range of the species in the country with any accuracy (Duckworth et al. 1999; Timmins and Evans 1996).

In China this species' distribution extends from the southern border as far north as Changjiang, including on the island of Chusan at the mouth of the Changjiang (Allen and Coolidge 1940). Available evidence indicates it extends to the provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangdong, and Fujian, and in the Autonomous Regions of Guangxi Zhuang, Tibet as well as Hainan Island, though it is replaced here by the subspecies Manis pentadactyla pusilla (Heath 1992, Zhang et al. 1997). It has been recorded in several sites in the central and northeast New Territories, as well as in Hong Kong SAR (including Lantau Island, but not on the smaller outlying islands), where it occurs at low altitudes (Reels 1996). In Taiwan (P.R. China), the species is replaced by the subspecies Manis pentadactyla pentadactlya (Formosan Pangolin, Chao et al. 2005) which occurs on the periphery of the Central Mountain Range, the Western Foothill Range, the Taoyuan Tableland, the Ouluanpi Tableland, the East Coast Mountain Range, the Tatun Volcano Group, Taipei Basin, Puli Basin, and the Pingtun Plain (Chao Jung-Tai 1989, Chao Jung-Tai et al. 2005). The upper limit of occurrence in Taiwan is around 2,000 m asl (Chao Jung-Tai 1989).

The species is plausibly widespread in northern Myanmar, although there are few records and its exact distribution is not well known (Salter 1983, Corbet and Hill 1992, J.W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2006).

The only records of the species in Thailand are from: Doi Inthanon (formerly Doi Angka) in Changwat, Chiang Mai (northern Thailand), sometime in 1937 and 1939 (Allen and Coolidge 1940) and Doi Sutep, Chiangmai (northern Thailand) in 1901.

All records of the species in Viet Nam are from the northern half of the country, as far south as Quang Tri Province and up to 1,000 m asl though actual upper altitudinal limits here are unknown (Bourret 1942, van Peenen et al. 1969, Do Tuoc pers. comm. 2006, P. Newton pers. comm. 2008).

Little is known about the species' distribution in Bangladesh (CITES 2000).
Bhutan; China; Hong Kong; India; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Myanmar; Nepal; Taiwan, Province of China; Thailand; Viet Nam
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: There is virtually no information available on population levels of any species of Asian pangolin either at the global or national level anywhere across the species' range, with two exceptions (see below), and there is a paucity of research on population densities, population levels and abundance. This species is rarely observed, principally due to its increasing rarity, but also because it is secretive, solitary and primarily nocturnal. Evidence indicates it has been extirpated from parts of its current range, as a result of over-exploitation, and is otherwise in steep decline across most of its range (SATCM 1996, CITES 2000).

Reports in China suggest pangolins here (Manis pentadactyla in addition to Manis javanica and Manis crassicaudata which are still or were once present; Heath 1992; Wu et al. 2005) were commercially extinct by c.1995, with Chinese demand for pangolin products subsequently being met through imports, largely from Southeast Asia (SATCM 1996, CITES 2000, Newton et al. 2008, Challender et al. in prep.). Although, Wu et al. (2002) estimated populations of the Chinese Pangolin in China to be 50,000-100,000, in 2004 Wu et al. estimated pangolin populations generally within and close to China have declined by 88.88 - 94.12% from levels in the 1960s. Interviews as part of ongoing research in China indicates this species is present but very rare in the border areas of Guangxi and Yunnan provinces (P.L.B. Chan pers. comm. 2013). On Hainan Island, extensive field research between 1997 and 2013 and interviews with hunters suggest the subspecies here, M. p. pusllia, is commercially extinct, as a result of past and ongoing hunting pressure. Some remnant individuals do exist but face a high risk of extinction if the high demand for this species continues (P.L.B. Chan pers. comm. 2013).

In Hong Kong SAR, on-going research indicates the Chinese Pangolin is present, having been recorded within and outside the Country Park network, but is considered rare (G. Ades pers. comm. 2013). 

In Taiwan (P.R. China) reports from the late 1980s and early 1990s suggest that populations of the subspecies M. p. pentadactyla (Formosan Pangolin) were decreasing, largely due to hunting, and although little is known about the status of the species, populations are suspected to be greatly reduced today and this subspecies is considered rare (Chao Jung-Tai 1989, Chao et al. 2005).  

Surveys conducted in the Royal Nagarjung Forest in Kathmandu, Nepal, in the early 1990s determined that there was a healthy population here, however, the general trend elsewhere in Nepal was dramatic declines, due to increased access to hunting areas (Gurung 1996). Hunting of pangolins here for contemporary international trade also suggests populations continue to be subject to exploitative pressure (Challender et al in prep.).

This species was reported in the 1980s as common in the undisturbed hill forests of Arunachal Pradesh, however, little is known about the total population in India (Tikader 1983, Zoological Survey of India 1994). Yet, trade figures suggest this species is under severe hunting pressure in Northeast India (Misra and Hanfee 2000, Challender et al. in prep.).

The species is very rare in Viet Nam (Do Tuoc pers. comm. 2006). There is a provisional record for Ba Na National Park, which straddles the provinces of Quang Nam and Da Nang (Frontier Viet Nam, 1994). Hunters in Viet Nam reported that they still find Manis pentadactyla in Cuc Phuong National Park (in Quang Binh province), in Khe Net Nature Reserve, and in Ke Go Nature Reserve (Ha Tinh province) (P. Newton pers. comm. 2008). However, all hunters reported that the species is extremely rare, and that populations have declined dramatically in the last two decades (P. Newton pers. comm. 2008). In 2007, P. Newton (pers. comm.) found recent (i.e., less than one month old) signs of pangolin activity (recently-dug burrows) in Cuc Phuong National Park, which was possibly Manis pentadactyla as opposed to Manis javanica, though this is difficult to substantiate. In Khe Net and Ke Go, hunters reported that numbers of Manis pentadactyla were lower than those of Manis javanica, probably because the former is easier to hunt. If this is the case, then in places where both species occur, populations of Manis pentadactyla are likely to be more heavily depleted.

The species has been so heavily hunted in Lao PDR that field sightings are exceptionally rare, and the only recent field sightings (during 1994-1995) was of an individual in Nam Theun Extension PNBCA (Proposed National Biodiversity Conservation Area) and one seen in a village in Nakai-Nam Theun NBCA during the same period (Duckworth et al. 1999).

The status of this species in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Thailand is unknown.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: This species is found in a wide range of habitats, including primary and secondary tropical forests, limestone forests, bamboo forests, broad-leaf and coniferous forests, grasslands and agricultural fields (Chao Jung-Tai 1989, Gurung 1996). The species digs its own burrows, or enlarges passages made by termites. Indications are that home ranges are relatively large, although concrete data are lacking (Heath and Vanderlip 1988). Hunters interviewed in Viet Nam indicate that Manis pentadactyla digs its own, long burrows underground, which they use both to eat termites and in which to sleep (P. Newton pers. comm. 2008). The main way hunters catch this species is by using dogs, tracking them and digging them out of burrows (Newton et al. 2008, P. Newton pers. comm. 2008).

This species is solitary, primarily nocturnal (sometimes crepuscular), and largely terrestrial although it is fully capable of climbing trees and, like other pangolins, swims well (Heath and Vanderlip 1988; Chao Jung-Tai 1989). Little is known about the species' life history, although in China and Taiwan, young (normally one and occasionally two) are reportedly born in spring (Allen and Coolidge 1940, Chao Jung-Tai 1989). Hunters in Viet Nam reported that they never find this species in trees and it seems likely that it is far more terrestrial than the more arboreal Manis javanica (P. Newton pers. comm. 2008).

Its diet consists of ants and termites and it has been noted that in China, there appears to be a close correlation between its distribution and the distribution of two termite species (Coptotermes formosanus and Termes (Cyclotermes) formosanus) which are assumed to form a major component of its diet (Allen and Coolidge 1940, Heath and Vanderlip 1988).
Systems: Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species has been hunted at a local level historically, both for the consumption of its meat as a protein source, and for its scales for use in traditional medicines among other spiritual and ritualistic uses (Anon. 1992, CITES 2000). It has also been subject to international trade historically, which has principally involved scales or traditional medicines containing scales, as well as skins, especially in the latter half of the 20th century, based on CITES and customs data (Anon. 1999; Broad et al. 1988; CITES 2000; Zhang et al. 2008). However, following the potential commercial extinction of pangolins in China around 1995 (SATCM 1996), a heavy unrecorded and therefore likely illicit international trade in live pangolins has occurred between Southeast Asia and China since which involved this species (Li and Li 1998, Newton et al. 2008, Wu and Ma 2007). In recent years, this trade has continued, despite the introduction of CITES zero export quotas for wild-caught specimens of this species traded for primarily commercial purposes, which is largely driven by market demand in China and mainly involved live animals and scales originating from Southeast and South Asia based on available evidence (Challender 2011, Challender et al. in prep., CITES 2000, Wu and Ma 2007). Although local use of pangolins also continues today, evidence suggests that this is often forgone in favour of selling the animals into trade, which is primarily destined to China (Newton et al. 2008). 

In China, as well as Viet Nam, pangolin meat is consumed conspicuously as a luxury wild meat dish for which affluent consumers are willing to pay very high prices. This species also appears in both Chinese and Vietnamese traditional medicinal literature which prescribes the use of scales in traditional medicines to: treat skin conditions, improve blood circulation and to stimulate milk secretion in lactating women (Ellis 2005). In China, pangolin scales continue to be prescribed for these and other ailments, including cancer (Yue 2008), through designated outlets such as hospitals, but also through traditional medicine retailers,as in Viet Nam. However, given the decline in this species historically, especially in China, it is difficult to determine if scales sold today are those from stockpiles of scales maintained by the State Forestry Administration in China, or from the Sunda pangolin Manis javanica.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The primary threat to this species is hunting and poaching, both targeted and untargeted, for local, i.e. national level use as well as international trade, which is now driven largely by market demand in China, and this species is evidently subject to very heavy collection pressure across much of its range (Anon. 1999, Challender 2011, CITES 2000, Pantel and Chin 2009, Wu and Ma 2007). As has occurred historically, exploitation for consumptive, medicinal and spiritualistic reasons locally continues to take place (Anon. 1992, Anon. 1999, CITES 2000), but evidence suggests local use is often forgone in favour of entering animals into national and international trade given their high monetary value (Newton et al. 2008). This is despite the introduction of CITES zero export quotas for wild-caught animals traded commercially in the year 2000 (Newton et al. 2008). Within the last decade trade in this species is estimated to have involved a minimum of tens of thousands of individuals (Challender et al. in prep.) and market demand in China, where pangolin meat is consumed as a luxury product and its scales used in traditional medicines, appears to driving this trade (Wu and Ma 2007, Zhang et al. 2008, Challender et al. in prep.). Here pangolin meat is consumed conspicuously as a luxury wild meat dish for which affluent consumers are willing to pay high prices. This species also appears in both Chinese and Vietnamese traditional medicinal literature which prescribes the use of scales in traditional medicines to: treat skin conditions, improve blood circulation and to stimulate milk secretion in lactating women (Ellis 2005). In China, pangolin scales continue to be prescribed for these and other ailments, including cancer (Yue 2008), through designated outlets such as hospitals, but also through traditional medicine retailers, as in Viet Nam. However, given the decline in this species historically, especially in China (see below), it is difficult to determine if scales sold today are those from stockpiles of scales maintained by the State Forestry Administration in China, or from the Sunda pangolin Manis javanica or other species of Asian pangolin.

As a result of past and ongoing exploitation, and within the time frame of three generations of this species (estimated at 21 years; generation length estimated at seven years), it has been inferred that Manis pentadactyla is commercially extinct in China (SATCM 1996, Wu et al. 2004), though remnant populations are understood to remain and further research is needed to confirm presence/absence (P.L.B. Chan pers. comm. 2013). Similarly, extensive fieldwork on Hainan Island between 1997 and 2013 suggests the subspecies M. p. pusilla is commercially extinct and has been reduced to remnant populations only (P.L.B. Chan pers. comm. 2013).  

It is significant that this species is reported to be an easier species to locate and hunt in the wild, compared to the Sunda pangolin Manis javanica (P. Newton pers. comm.). This is because it is more terrestrial, and is thus: a) easier to track their scent using specialised hunting dogs (the scent of Manis javanica is often lost at points at which the animal climbed a tree); and b) has conspicuous soil burrows that are more easily accessed than the tree hollows favoured by Manis javanica (P. Newton pers. comm.). For these reasons, the hunting threat to Manis pentadactyla is perhaps even greater than that to Manis javanica (P. Newton pers. comm.).

Unfortunately, very little research has been conducted on pangolins or their hunting, poaching and trade in Asia, though one exception is research conducted by Newton et al. (2008) in Viet Nam. Here, every hunter interviewed (N = 84) reported that they now sell all pangolins that they catch (P. Newton pers. comm. 2008). 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. 2008). The only occasions on which a hunter might eat a pangolin is if it is already dead when they retrieve it from a trap and then they would use the meat and sell the scales (P. Newton pers. comm. 2008). MacMillan and Nguyen (2013) report similar findings and it is likely this circumstance is prevalent across Asia. The price per kg of pangolin (in Viet Nam, 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. 2008). Prices paid to hunters now exceed US$95 per kg (Viet Nam, P. Newton pers. comm. 2008) which is reflected up the trade chain with retail prices in China and Viet Nam having increased in recent years (D.W.S. Challender pers. comm. 2013).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is listed in CITES Appendix II and zero annual export quotas were established for wild-caught specimens traded for primarily commercial purposes in 2000 (CoP11). It is listed as a protected species in national or sub-national legislation in all range states, except Bhutan. While it has been recorded in, and may still occur in, some protected areas, protected area designation alone is insufficient to protect this species. Greater enforcement and management within protected areas to prevent poaching is needed as is strict enforcement along national and international trade routes, the identification and verification of strongholds where conservation efforts should be focused, and efforts to reduce consumer demand in key markets. 

In Bangladesh, this species is protected by the Wildlife (Conservation & Security) Act 2012.

In China Manis pentadactyla is a State Category II protected species under the Protection of Wildlife Act (1989).  It is also afforded protection under the Regulations on the Implementation of Protection of Terrestrial Wild Animals (1992) and the Regulations on Management of Import and Export of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora 2006, which implements CITES. It also received further protection in the year 2000, following the promulgation of two judicial interpretations, which defined criteria for punishing crimes involving pangolins specifically. Similarly, a notification issued by national Chinese agencies in 2007 strengthened regulation for species used in traditional medicines, including pangolins, meaning hunting licenses for pangolins here are not to be issued and existing stockpiles of pangolin scales are to be subject to verification, certification and subject to retail trade only through designated outlets such as hospitals.

In Hong Kong SAR this species is protected under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance 1976 (amended 1980, 1996) and the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants 2006.

In Taiwan (P.R. China), all Manis spp. have been protected since August 1990 under the 1989 Wildlife Conservation Law (amended 1994).

In India, this species is completely protected being listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 (amended 2003, 2006).

In Thailand, all Manis spp. are classified as Protected Wild Animals under the 1992 Wild Animals Reservation and Protection Act B.E. 2535.

In Nepal, this species is listed as a Protected Animal in Schedule I of the National Parks and Wildlife Protection Act (1973, as amended 1993).

In Lao PDR Manis pentadactyla is listed in the Prohibition category of Lao PDR's Wildlife and Aquatic Law (2007) as a rare, near extinct, high value or species of special importance in the development of socio-economic, environmental, educational and scientific research. 

In Myanmar this species is listed as a completely protected animal under the Protection of Wildlife and Wild Plants and Conservation of Natural Areas Law (1994).

In Viet Nam this species is listed as legally protected in Group IIB of Decree 32 on the Management of Endangered, Precious and Rare species of wild plants and animals (2006). However, section 9 of this law permits pangolins seized from illicit trade to legally be sold back into trade. Lack of an appropriate solution for confiscated pangolins continues to be a major problem for enforcement agencies in Viet Nam.

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Citation: Challender, D., Baillie, J., Ades, G., Kaspal, P., Chan, B., Khatiwada, A., Xu, L., Chin, S., KC, R., Nash, H. & Hsieh, H. 2014. Manis pentadactyla. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 31 August 2015.
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