Manis: extinction is getting closer and closer

The conservation status of the pangolin species is between vulnerable and highly endangered

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Manis: extinction is getting closer and closer

Manis live in tropical areas of South and Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The order was once much more widespread: fossils of pangolins have been found in both Europe and North America. The conservation status of the pangolin species is between vulnerable and highly endangered.

Pangolins are hunted for their delicious meat, both on the African and Asian continents. Despite a ban on the pangolin meat trade, smuggling of pangolin meat is still a problem in some countries. Pangolin scales are also smuggled.

Pangolins are territorial and solitary animals. To mark the territory they emit a strongly odorous acid from glands positioned near the anus; the odor given off by these glands resembles that of skunks. Sexual maturity is reached in one or two years.

The average life span is around 13 years. Pangolins are animals whose body is covered with horny scales made up of keratin, overlapping each other, forming a sort of plate armor. Only the belly, the inner part of the legs, the muzzle and the lateral parts of the head are uncovered.

The armor is constructed in such a way as to allow the animal to curl up if frightened. The scales are sharp and can be used, especially those of the tail, as weapons. Small pangolins possess soft scales, which harden as the animal matures.

Pangolins are the only mammals that have bodies covered with scales. The hair is present in areas free from scales and in Asian species also in the interstices between the scales. The front claws of pangolins, used mainly for digging, are extremely long and are an impediment when the animal walks on the ground.

The tail is long and, in some species, prehensile and also serves as a counterweight for the body weighed down by the armor. The eyes are small and only the Asian species have external ears. Weak sight and hearing are compensated for by a highly developed sense of smell.

The long tongue, suitable for the capture of ants and termites, is not connected to the hyoid bone, but, similarly to what happens, due to a phenomenon of evolutionary convergence, in the giant anteater, it comes from the thoracic cavity.

Pangolins are completely devoid of teeth. A grinding function is carried out by the stomach, which for its musculature and internal lining resembles the gizzard of birds. Stones are often swallowed to aid in shredding. The size of pangolins varies from species to species, and is between 30 and 100 centimeters in length. Females are generally smaller than males.