Manis giganteagiant pangolin

Geographic Range

Giant pangolins live in Africa, along the equator from West Africa to Uganda.


This species lives in forests and savannahs where termites are abundant and water is available. It does not occur at high altitudes.

Physical Description

The typical mass range of this species is not known, but one individual was found to weigh 33 kg. Male body length is about 140 cm; female about 125 cm. Manis gigantea is the largest of its genus, giving it the name "giant pangolin." It is covered with large, thick scales and has no hair (except eyelashes). The snout is long, and the scales are usually brown or reddish brown. It has long claws on the front feet and a long, wide tail.


Little is known about the reproduction of this species. Two birth records indicate that a litter was found in September and another in October. The young weighed about 500 g at birth. The newborn has soft scales and its eyes are open. It cannot walk on its legs, but it is active and can scramble around on its stomach.

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual


Pangolins are generally observed singly, but in one case a pair was discovered in a burrow with a juvenile. Giant pangolins can dig large burrows, up to 40 m long, 5 m below the ground. Pangolins are nocturnal, leaving their burrows after midnight to feed. The sense of smell is probably very important for giant pangolins, and they have large anal glands. The odor of their secretions probably has a roll in intraspecific communication. When walking, most of the animal's weight is on its columnar rear legs. By using its tail for balance, it can even walk bipedally. When walking on all four legs, pangolins curl in their front paws to protect the sharp front claws. The animal actually walks on the outside of its wrists rather than its palms.

When a pangolin is startled it hides its head between its front legs, thereby presenting to the potential predator only its strongly armored shoulders. If touched or grabbed it will roll up completely into a ball. The scales on the tail are very sharp, and may be used as a weapon.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Giant pangolins eat ants and termites. The dig into both subterranean and mound-type termite nests with their powerful claws, and they can eat a large quantity of these insects. Pangolins must also have access to drinking water.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Pangolins are hunted for their meat and for their scales, which are considered very desirable due to their use in native medicines and rituals.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Manis gigantea on humans.

Conservation Status

The abundance of giant pangolins is not well known, since they have not been studied in detail and because they are nocturnal, which makes them difficult to observe casually. It is clear that deforestation for timber, urban development and agricultural development have decreased the amount of habitat available. Hunting also decreases population levels. Manis gigantea is listed on CITES appendix II.


Deborah Ciszek (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


Kingdon, J. 1971. East African Mammals, Vol. I. Academic Press, London.

Sodeinde, O.A. and S.R. Adedipe. 1994. Pangolins in south-west Nigeria : current status and prognosis. Oryx 28:43-50.