Central Africa


Rain forest, wetlands, savanna, scrubland, and temperate forest

A scaly anteater

A pinecone with legs? An artichoke with a long tail? Yes, the pangolin is a very unique-looking mammal! From the skinny, insect-seeking nose to the end of the scaled tail, the pangolin looks like an anteater from outer space! Instead of having hair or quills, the pangolin is covered with overlapping scales that feel a bit like our fingernails.

The scales are light and thin, with sharp edges, and are attached at the base to the pangolin's thick skin. These scales cover most of the pangolin's body, except for the belly, snout, eyes, and ears, and can be dark brown to dark olive brown, pale olive, or yellowish brown. Flat scales cover the top of the animal's head and the tail. The pangolin's belly and face has soft, pale hairs. Its head is small and pointed, and its tail is longer than its body.

Like other animals that dine on ants and termites, pangolins have no teeth. There are seven pangolin species. Tree pangolins are found in rain forests in Central Africa.

Leave me alone!

Tree pangolins are solitary, nocturnal, and, not surprisingly, spend most of their time in trees. Hollow trees are used for shelter. Tree pangolins have a prehensile tail that helps them hang on to tree branches. The tip of the tail is bare, to give the animal an extra grip. When strolling along branches or on the ground, pangolins curl their claws underneath their feet and walk on their knuckles. They are generally slow moving and often walk on the hind legs, using the tail as a brace.

Amazingly, the pangolin can stick its tongue out about 10 inches (25 centimeters).
The name pangolin comes from the Malay word “pengguling,” meaning "rolling over," for the animal's ability to roll itself into a ball.
The tree pangolin is also known as a white-bellied pangolin, scaly anteater, small-scaled tree pangolin, and three-cusped pangolin.
The tree pangolin’s species name, “tricuspis,” is Latin for "three points" and refers to the shape of the animal's scales.

The San Diego Zoo is home to a tree pangolin named Baba. He lives off exhibit in the Zoo’s Children’s Zoo but makes daily appearance with his keeper to give guests an opportunity to see and learn about this amazing animal.

Humans are taking their toll on pangolin populations. People are clearing rain forest areas for their own use and hunting pangolins for meat. Pangolin skins are used for boots, and the scales are prized by some people as a way to guard against evil spirits or for rain-making ceremonies. The scales are even believed by some to have healing powers when ground into powder.

You can help us bring species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.