The white-bellied tree pangolin is the latest new species that can now call Memphis Zoo home. Found in West Africa and hunted for their scales and meat, this unique species has recently been reclassified as “endangered” by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Memphis Zoo is partnering with five other U.S. zoos and the Pangolin Conservation organization to activate a conservation plan and secure the future of pangolins around the world.
“Memphis Zoo is dedicated to preserving wildlife and we’re happy to be working with the Pangolin Conservation organization and other U.S. zoos to ensure the survival of these amazing animals,” said Matt Thompson, Director of Animal Programs at Memphis Zoo. “We will be able to provide valuable research and develop techniques that provide insight into the behavior of this species which, we hope, will help with future conservation efforts.”
After acquiring three of these unique-looking mammals, Memphis Zoo initially kept the pangolins in quarantine at the Zoo’s hospital. When assured of the health and disposition of each animal, the pangolins were moved into their new exhibit in the Animals of the Night building. They are currently still behind-the-scenes in the Nocturnal building.
Sometimes called the scaly anteater, due to its scaly exterior and consumption 70 million ants per year, this solitary and nocturnal species has scales that count for approximately 20% of its body weight. The scales are highly sought after for illegal use in Asian medicines, as well as in the black-market jewelry trade. Pangolin meat is also considered a delicacy in Asian countries.
This is only the third time that a zoo in the United States has had pangolins on exhibit. The Los Angeles Zoo had a pangolin in 2005. From 2007-2016, the San Diego Zoo had one male in its collection.
In partnership with the Pangolin Conservation organization, a number of white-bellied tree pangolins were imported from in the African country of Togo. To further help save wild pangolins from extinction, the Consortium of Zoos is collaborating with the faculty and students from the University of Lomé, in Lomé, Togo, to strengthen in-country research and conservation efforts.
“It’s a slow process,” said Justin Miller, of Pangolin Conservation. “Everything is done according to how they are reacting. There is no rush. We take each step gradually to ensure they are comfortable.”
About White-bellied tree pangolins
White-bellied tree pangolins are one of eight pangolin species. The animals, sometimes known as “scaly anteaters,” are covered with scales made of keratin, the same substance that makes up human fingernails and hair. However, this species is not actually related to anteaters; they are more closely related to dogs and cats.
The name pangolin comes from the Malay word penggulung, which means roller. Pangolins main line of defense is curling up into a ball. The hardened scales act as a protective shield.
These animals are insectivores, meaning they eat primarily insects. Their tails are prehensile, or capable of grasping. Adult pangolins use their tail to scale trees to find insects high in the treetops.