The third Saturday in February is World Pangolin Day. These scaly anteaters are grouped with other anteaters, armadillos, and sloth. They have no teeth but a long sticky tongue that picks up ants and termites. They have been around for some 40 million years but are now losing their numbers to poachers and deforestation, especially in South Africa.

Their name is derived from the Malay word pengguling which means something that rolls up, which is exactly what they do if threatened – their keratin scales act as armour. In Hindi they are known as bajra keet or kapta.

The Nandankanan Zoological Park, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, claims to be the first to successfully breed pangolins in captivity by studying their behaviour, physiology, reproduction, nutrition, diseases, etc. They have 10 of which 6 are female.

An unimaginably high number of pangolins are killed – just for their scales (Chinese medicine utilises ground-up scales as an aphrodisiac, and as cures for liver disease and asthma) and meat (pangolin meat and foetus soup is a delicacy in China and Vietnam). They are the most poached and trafficked species worldwide. In 2014, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that they were threatened with extinction and two of the eight species were declared critically endangered. At the CITES’s (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) at Johannesburg in September-October 2016, it was decided that all eight species (two of which are endemic to India) of pangolins should be listed in Appendix I which offers the maximum protection to a species and prohibits its commercial trade. The campaign by Prince William and Angry Birds to get the youth to understand that pangolins are the most heavily traded mammals in the world worked in creating great awareness.

In 2012 a taxi driver who was transporting 8 gunny bags full of pangolin scales that were headed for Myanmar due to their perceived medicinal value for curing bone problems and for witchcraft, was caught in Mizoram. The scales were claimed to be from Indian pangolins that had been hunted in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.


Pangolins are in fact found all over India, more so in the East. They are poached mainly by tribes for meat, bile, scales and claws utilised for so-called medical benefits, and for monetary gain. The Nattuvaidyars claim the smoke from pangolin scales help in relieving piles. An intelligence report found that poachers had begun preferring pangolins to tigers.

Investigations have revealed pangolins are dug out of their burrows by smoking or flushing out with water; pitfall traps are also used, as well as hunting with dogs. If caught alive, they are picked up and killed by being thrown into boiling water or are clubbed to death. When threatened they coil their body into a tight ball (notwithstanding their scales protruding outwards like blades) which makes it easy for poachers to transfer and transport them in gunny bags. They have long claws and people think they will attack although they are not known to attack.

Shikharutsav is observed with pangolins being ritualistically hunted for meat in Odisha. In Odisha (and West Bengal) the flesh is believed to cure various diseases such as asthma, psoriasis and cancer; and since it is considered a “tonic” it is given to lactating mothers. The scales are removed and some are fashioned into finger rings like those worn in Odisha to cure piles. However, the majority of scales are smuggled to Nepal or Myanmar, with their final destination being China. Surprisingly, boots and coats are also made from the scales. In 2016-17 as much as 7.7 tonnes of scales (sought mainly for medicinal benefits of keratin) were seized in Hong Kong.

Although no reliable global population estimates, but drastic local declines, have been documented, in 2018 more than 1 million pangolins were believed to have been poached from the wild in the past decade.

Traffic India estimated 3,350 pangolins were poached (undetected apart) between 2009 and 2013, the figure having been arrived at on the basis of at least 6 pangolins killed per 10 kgs of scales. Then in 2018 their study revealed that at least 5,772 had been captured for illegal trade from 2009 to 2017.

In 2015 the District Wildlife Crime Control Unit Committee at Kohima intercepted a consignment of 10 kgs pangolin scales worth Rs 18.6 lakh smuggled into Nagaland from Assam, en route Manipur, planning to reach Myanmar.

Soon after 13 persons were arrested for having poached and smuggled 100 pangolins from Madhya Pradesh to China and Vietnam. The Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh Khawasa border seems to be the centre of this illicit trade as it is well connected to Nagpur territorial circle, Gondia and Bhandara districts as some traders are from Tumsar. The Indian Pangolin was radio-tagged by the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department in 2020 because the IUCN classified it as “endangered”.


This was followed by the king-pin of the Indo-China pangolin smuggling racket eventually being arrested in July 2015. But, his arrest did not stop smugglers from Chhattisgarh who were nabbed with 8.5 kgs of pangolin scales in August 2015. In the same month 400 pangolin scales were seized after laying a trap to buy them @ Rs 25,000/- in Tamil Nadu. And, as much as 123 kgs of pangolin scales were seized in May 2016 from a Myanmar national at Thingdawal in Kolasib district of Mizoram. It was suspected that the scales were brought from Assam and were due to be smuggled to Myanmar. A couple of weeks later a live male pangolin was seized (along with leopard skins) in Nabarangpur district of Odisha.

It has been estimated that between 2009 and 2017 about 6,000 pangolins were poached mainly in Manipur and Tamil Nadu. However, the Walk Through India website lists the Indian Pangolin as one of the five most heavily trafficked animals in India. They say the “Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) or Thick Tailed Pangolin is the most hunted animal in India and world’s most trafficked wild mammal. The highly endangered Indian Pangolin is about to become extinct. Almost 1,00,000 Pangolins are captured every year in India for illegal trade.”

By 2019 several cases of pangolin seizures had been reported from Raigad, Thane and Chandrapur in Maharashtra. (Poaching has resulted in their numbers falling in Raigad and Purandar districts and the Bhimashankar range where they were found in abundance.) Scales were being sold for Rs 1.5 lakh per kg and live pangolins for around Rs 70,000/-. Pangolins were being caught in forest areas like Khandala in Satara District. A pangolin captured in the Kolhapur forest was also brought to Pune in June 2019 – the two accused men hoped to sell it for Rs 50 lakh. Again in October 2019 three men were arrested in Pune after they were found to be in possession of a pangolin. The animal had been procured in Konkan.

Last but not least, in July 2019 two men were murdered in Tamhini Ghat (50 kms from Pune) over a financial dispute over smuggling of pangolins. This made the Police carefully look into all pangolin seizures made in Maharashtra and discover that multiple rackets were in existence. One group trapped the pangolins and sold them to another group of middlemen from cities who smuggled them further.

In November 2019 it was commendable that forest officials of Odisha laid a trap by approaching a pangolin smuggler as traders and nabbed the man who was trying to sell a 10 kg pangolin for Rs 2 lakh.

In May 2022 when another pangolin seizure took place the Special Task Force of Odisha declared that during the last two years 13 pangolins and 30 kgs of scales worth Rs 6 crores had been seized. The Forest Department even found out that pangolin scales were in great demand by foreign tourists during the Rath Yatra in Puri.

In March 2023 Jharkhand state’s Giridih Eastern Forest Division burst a gang of pangolin smugglers while they were trying to sell meat and scales. Three smugglers were arrested with pangolin body parts.

Surprisingly a live pangolin was found in a residential area in Bhugaon (Pune District, Maharashtra). The rescue team surmised that the animal must have been trapped and managed to escape. They also found it was infested with ticks.

Pangolin scales periodically seized are accounted for in kilograms. This clearly indicates that poaching them is going from bad to worse in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Manipur, Tripura, Assam, Nagaland and West Bengal.

Page last updated on 03/04/23