Giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea)

Also known as: giant pangolin, grand pangolin
Synonyms: Manis gigantea
French: Grand Pangolin, Pangolin Géant
Spanish: Pangolín Gigante
GenusManis (1)
SizeLength: up to 1.8 m (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

The giant ground pangolin earns its name for being the largest of eight species that are the sole representatives of the highly specialized mammalian order Pholidota (4). Despite not being closely related to the other ant-eating mammals, pangolins are sometimes referred to as scaly anteaters, in reference to the similar adaptations the two groups exhibit to the same ecological niche (5). All pangolins have short powerful legs with strong, curved claws for digging, and elongate, tapering bodies protected above by overlapping scales (2) (4) (6). Although the underside of the body is soft and hairy, when in danger, pangolins are able to roll into a tight, almost impregnable ball, with only the hard, scaly parts of the body exposed (4) (6). At the end of the pangolin’s tubular head is a small, toothless mouth, out of which it projects an astoundingly long, sticky tongue (6) (7). Like other pholidots, the giant ground pangolin has small eyes and poor eyesight but an acute sense of smell and very good hearing, despite the absence of external ears (5) (8).

The giant ground pangolin has a discontinuous distribution through West and Central Africa from Senegal east to Ghana, and Cameroon east to Kenya (1).

The giant ground pangolin inhabits moist tropical lowland forests and forested swamps, but will also occur in mosaic habitats comprising forest, savannah and areas of cultivation (1).

The giant ground pangolin is an elusive nocturnal species that passes the day hidden under plant debris or out of sight deep in its burrow. Come nightfall it typically goes in search of ant and termite mounds in order to feed upon the multitudinous residents teeming within (2) (5) (8). Resting on its broad, heavy tail it uses its powerful claws to tear open the mounds and its long, sticky tongue to probe the cracks and tunnels for the nutritious quarry (2) (5). Naturally, the frenzied insects swarm the pangolin, but thick skin, tough eyelids, closable nostrils and internal ears are effective adaptations to the otherwise painful stings and bites (2) (4).

Pangolins are normally solitary but occasionally a male and female live together in the same burrow with their offspring (5) (8). Little is known about pangolin breeding biology, except that females usually carry the developing embryo for around 140 days before giving birth to a single young (2). The newborn is nursed by the female for three to four months and will accompany her on foraging bouts riding on the base of the tail (8).

In common with other pangolins, the giant ground pangolin is hunted for bushmeat and persecuted for use in traditional medicine (1). Furthermore, some people maintain old ritualistic beliefs that the pangolin’s scales and other body parts can be used to generate rain, neutralize evil spirits, and ward off lions (5) (8). Although only scant data is currently available, its population is thought to be gradually declining (1).

Although the giant ground-pangolin occurs in several protected areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and the Ivory Coast, there are no specific targeted conservation measures for this species. The primary concern is that despite its listing on Appendix II of CITES, the legislation restricting trade is not being effectively enforced in many African states (1).

To support the efforts of conservationists working to protect pangolins see:

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Authenticated (12/08/2009) by Chao, Jung-Tai, Ph.D. Chair of the former IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group and Senior Scientist, Taiwan Forestry Research Institute.

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)