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Researchers explore secret lives of world’s most trafficked mammal


For the first-time ever, scientists have deployed animal-borne cameras on pangolins — the world’s most trafficked wild mammal.

They look like an armored anteater (they’re not, though they do eat ants), curl up in a ball like an armadillo, but are more closely related to dogs. They exist in their own taxonomic order — Pholidota. They are covered in scales made of keratin, making them the only truly scaly mammal on the planet. They are predominantly nocturnal, elusive, understudied, and their populations are in trouble.

Eight species of pangolins exist in Africa and Asia and have long been exploited for food and medicine. Today they are poached for international wildlife trafficking for their scales. All eight are threatened with extinction. Nearly 1 million pangolins have been taken from the wild in the past three years in Africa alone. Pangolins are in need of urgent conservation action, according to Matthew H. Shirley, a researcher in FIU’s Tropical Conservation Institute.

Shirley leads a team amassing much-needed data about these elusive and relatively unknown animals. Baseline knowledge about their biology, ecology and cultural significance currently does not exist, and conservation officials do not have the information they need to develop management programs to protect and restore populations. MORE

Header image: Mathieu Assovi (left) and FIU researcher Matthew Shirley (right) prepare to release the first-ever black-bellied pangolin to ever be tagged. This one is outfitted with a VHF transmitter and temperature/light data logger. Assovi is a Ph.D. student in conservation biology and wildlife management at Felix Houphouet-Boigny University in Cote d’Ivoire. Credit: Florida International University.

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