Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)

Sunda pangolin, side view
IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered CRITICALLY

Top facts

  • The Sunda pangolin can emit well-directed jets of an ill-smelling liquid from the anal region, similar to a skunk
  • Amongst its many defence mechanisms, the Sunda pangolin has thick eyelids and muscles that can close its nose to prevent sensitive areas from getting stung while it feeds on ants
  • The adult Sunda pangolin can extend its tongue by up to 25 centimetres
  • The name of the order Pholodita, to which all pangolins belong, translates to 'scaly anteaters' in Latin
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Sunda pangolin fact file

Sunda pangolin description

GenusManis (1)

The Sunda pangolin is a member of the order Pholidota, which translates to ‘scaly anteaters’ in Latin (4). This name was given due to the strange appearance of the eight Pholidota species which all have a heavy armour of overlapping keratin scales covering the head, neck, trunk, flanks and tail (4) and have a relatively similar physique to anteaters (5). Pangolins are extremely unique in that they are the only extant mammal that has scales (6), and their odd appearance means that they are often likened to a walking pine cone (4). The amount of scales that a pangolin has on its body remains the same throughout its life (4) and the Sunda pangolin usually has between 900 and 1,000 scales, although some larger individuals may have more (7).

The Sunda pangolin has exclusively dark brown scales aside from a single white scale on its tail (7). The areas of this species’ body which lack scales, such as the underside of the face and body, are covered by fine, lightly coloured hairs (8). Although similar in appearance to the female, the male Sunda pangolin is usually 10 to 50 percent larger (6) (8).  

Also known as
Malayan pangolin.
Pangolin Javanais, Pangolin Malais.
Pangolín Malayo.
Head-body length: 40 - 65 cm (2)
Tail length: 35 - 57 cm (2)
4.5 - 14 kg (2)

Sunda pangolin biology

During the day the arboreal Sunda pangolin sleeps in tree hollows or burrows and forages for food throughout the night, using its prehensile tail to climb trees in pursuit of prey (1). The diet of the Sunda pangolin consists primarily of ants and termites, whose nests it easily locates using its acute sense of smell (6) (8), and can easily demolish using its large curved claws (4) (6). To prevent ant bites while feeding, the Sunda pangolin has specialised muscles that allow it to close its nose and thick eyelids to protect its eyes (6). Other soft-bodied insects and larvae are occasionally taken by the Sunda pangolin, which it catches by flicking its long, sticky tongue in and out of hidden cracks and crevices. Amazingly, the tongue of this species can be extended by up to 25 centimetres (8). Pangolins have no teeth, and therefore ants and termites enter the stomach whole and must be processed internally (8). Sand and small stones are swallowed by pangolins to assist the grinding activity of the stomach, allowing them to digest their prey (4).

The female Sunda pangolin reaches sexual maturity at one year old and has a gestation period of between three and four months (7), after which a single pup is born (8). The newborn Sunda pangolin, whose scales are soft and do not begin to harden until the second day of life (8), remains in a burrow created by the female for two to four weeks before venturing outside (6). While outside the young Sunda pangolin, also known as a ‘pangopup’,  attaches itself to the base of the female’s back and clings tightly to the scales for around three months, after which it begins to walk and forage for itself (4) (8).

Despite its excellent hearing, the Sunda pangolin produces few vocalisations and is a relatively quiet animal (6), although an aggressive snorting sound, hissing and puffing are produced when an individual is threatened (4). When under attack, this species rolls into a tight ball to protect the vulnerable underside of its body (8) and may lash out with its sharply edged tail (9). The Sunda pangolin is known to curl up so tightly that it is practically impossible for a human to unroll it (8). This species can also emit well-directed jets of pungent liquid from its anal region as a defence mechanism (8) and to mark its territory (6) (9).


Sunda pangolin range

The Sunda pangolin is found across the mainland and islands of Southeast Asia, from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia (1). The Sunda pangolin has the largest geographical distribution of the four Asian pangolin species (7)


Sunda pangolin habitat

The Sunda pangolin can be found in a variety of habitats, including primary and secondary forest, lowland forest and cultivated areas such as gardens, oil palm and rubber plantations, and is often found near human settlements. This species usually occurs at elevations of up to 1,700 metres (1).


Sunda pangolin status

The Sunda pangolin is Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Sunda pangolin threats

The primary threat to the Sunda pangolin is hunting and poaching (1). In parts of Asia, the flesh of pangolins is considered a delicacy and powdered pangolin scales are thought to hold high medicinal and aphrodisiacal qualities despite being made of keratin, the same substance found in human nails and hair (4) (8). The Sunda pangolin is also threatened by the widespread habitat loss that has occurred throughout its range (1) (7).


Sunda pangolin conservation

The Sunda pangolin is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade in this species is strictly regulated (3). This species is protected by wildlife laws in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, which are all regions where it is threatened by hunting, although these laws are often not enforced to an appropriate degree (1).

It is extremely important for the conservation of the Sunda pangolin and other pangolin species to develop methods to care for rescued pangolins in captivity, as large amounts are confiscated by national authorities throughout Southeast Asia and their care and rehabilitation is crucial (2). Further research into the trade routes of this and other pangolin species is urgently needed to reduce illegal trade and trafficking (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

Learn more about the Sunda pangolin and its conservation:




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An animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees
Still in existence
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth
Immature stage in an animal’s lifecycle, after it hatches from an egg and before it changes into the adult form. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but are usually unable to reproduce
Capable of grasping
Primary forest
Forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition
Secondary forest
Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2016)
  2. Lim, N. (2007) Autecology of the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) in Singapore. [online]. MSc, National University of Singapore. 
  3. CITES (March, 2016)
  4. Parker, S. (1990) Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York.
  5. Reiss, K. Z. (2001) Using phylogenies to study convergence: the case of the ant-eating mammals. American Zoologist. 41 (3): 507-525.
  6. MacDonald, D. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, London.
  7. IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group (March, 2016) 
  8. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  9. Vaughan, T.A., Ryan, J.M. and Czaplewski, N.J. (2011) Mammalogy. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Image credit

Sunda pangolin, side view  
Sunda pangolin, side view

© Alain Compost / Biosphoto

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