Firstly, let’s be clear. Putting added stress on these creatures is not something that we’re suggesting. We do, however, think that wildlife viewing has the ability to change one’s stance on conservation and environmental stewardship.
In some cases and for some people, this is a ‘paradigm-shifting’ event.
Enter: The Taiwanese Pangolin. Scientifically known as Manis pentadactyla pentadactyla, Taiwan’s scaly friend is a subspecies of the Chinese pangolin found only on the sub-tropical island Taiwan.
Spotting a Taiwanese Pangolin is rare and life changing.
台灣穿山甲，科學上稱為Manis pentadactyla pentadactyla，是僅在台灣這個亞熱帶島裕發現的中國穿山甲的唯一一個亞種。
Pangolins in general are one of the world’s most trafficked animals. Under threat from poachers and loss of habitat, these creatures are listed as a “critically endangered” species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List. Let that settle with you – pangolins are now threatened with extinction.
Interestingly, the Taiwanese Pangolin is actually the only subspecies that has a population that is expanding. Some have posed the important question about whether Taiwan will be the the last conservation stronghold for pangolins (穿山甲).
What is a Pangolin? / 什麼是穿山甲？
Have you ever asked yourself what exactly a Pangolin is? Are they reptiles or mammals?Amphibians or something else?
At a first glance, many believe a pangolin to be a reptile. The fit the bill, so to speak. This is understandable after all. They have scales, which is one of main the characteristics of reptiles. However, pangolins are actually mammals. They are the only mammals that are wholly-covered in scales. These scales are used to protect themselves from predators in the wild. If they enter into a threatening situation, a pangolin will actually immediately curl into a tight ball to protect themselves. They will then use their sharp-scaled tails to defend themselves against further attacks from predators.
You may be asking yourself why are these so endangered? What makes these animals more susceptible to threats than other creatures. Well, they’re unique for one. But they are also consumed for different reasons in different regions. For example, they’re hunted as bush meat in Africa while their scales are consumed as traditional Chinese medicine. Dead pangolins are smuggled around the world to meet Asian demand — the top two destinations are China and Vietnam.
While we write this, we know that many are wondering why would write out our suggested tactics of how to find a pangolin if they are under such pressure. Well, we by no means condone irresponsible wildlife interactions, we firmly believe that a magical moment spotting a Pangolin while hiking in Taiwan will inspire you to do more for conservation and education around the preservation of this species, in Taiwan and around the world.
5 Tactics You Need to Know to Find Pangolins in Taiwan 在台灣找到穿山甲的五大訣竅
1) Patience / 耐心
While hiking in Taiwan, the expectation that you will spot large mammals such as the infamous Moon Bear, Taiwanese Leopard Cat or one of the local species of deer should be measured. While the later of the three is most likely to be seen, the pangolin is a much rarer animal to catch a glimpse of bustling through the underbrush. You have to be patient both on the walk itself and to perhaps even just sitting in one quiet location for an extended period of time with little to no hiker traffic. Be patient, it’s well worth the wait.
In fact, during our own experience spotting a Pangolin, we first heard a rustling and what sounded like knocking on the inside of a medium sized Japanese cedar. We then noticed a burrow right under the tree. We proceeded to approach the tree very quietly, while not leaving the trail. We sat, silent and motionless for 25 minutes listening. When the pangolin finally emerged, we were ecstatic that our patience was rewarded. We captured some shots and waited for the pangolin to move on before we left ourselves. We experienced our sighting in Dongyanshan National Forest in Taoyuan, Taiwan.
2) Good Listening More than Good Vision / 著重在聽而不是看
It’s not surprising that people enjoy talking and conversing with each other when walking and hiking in the forests of Taiwan. The sheer decibels at which some speak at is surprising though. What’s more there is trend among some hikers in Taiwan to listen to music at high volumes. As this article explains, hiking in Taiwan can some times be wonderful and weird all in one. Pangolins are rather skittish creatures and are easily spoked. Loud sounds and music will have them scurrying away before you can even see them.
All we are saying is that you’d be surprised at the wildlife that lurks just around the corner on trails across Taiwan, but they’re missed when people aren’t paying attention. In our experience, listening for the subtle sounds of light knocking on wood can be enough to spot one of these illusive pangolins. Keeping your ears (and eyes) open and listening for these kinds of sounds could be the difference between walking right by a pangolin on the trail.
3) An Understanding of Pangolin Habitats / 了解穿山甲的棲地
Taiwanese pangolins aren’t typically found in higher elevations, so as a general rule, if you are hiking above 1200m you likely won’t find any Pangolins scurrying about. In fact, these creatures live primarily in and around protected areas in Taiwan below 1000m. National Forests National Parks and some of the more remote trails in Taiwan are great places to potentially find pangolins. They can also be found amongst agricultural fields on mountain slopes below 1,000m, with the highest densities of individuals being at about 300m.
Understanding a pangolin’s habitat also means understanding their diet and asking, what do pangolin’s eat? Well, these creatures are also known as “The Scaly Anteater” because pangolins love to eat ants, termites and larvae. If you didn’t know, they have no teeth and they pick up their prey and food with their long, sticky tongues. Keep you eyes out for larger populations of these creatures and then scout the surrounding areas.
Pangolins nest underground and entrances to their homes can be spotted frequently on trails across Taiwan. Keep your eyes (and ears – see above) out for burrows close to tree trunks or around rocky structures.
4) Being in the right place / 在對的地方
As we discussed above, pangolins are easily frightened and rather shy. They don’t venture too far from their homes and aren’t found rummaging through garbage at popular outdoor attraction or visitor centers. Based on the description of their habitat, we think the chances of spotting a pangolin increase if you are exploring trails in those areas. Getting out into protected areas in Taiwan, or at least more remote destinations may allow you a better chance to spot a Pangolin in Taiwan.
5) A little luck / 一點運氣
Ok. So maybe this isn’t that much of ‘tactic’ but as the saying goes (and to point #4), “You have to be in it to win it.” If you’re not getting outdoors and taking advantages of some of the opportunities to go hiking in Taiwan, then you’ll never spot a pangolin in the wild. Luck has a lot to do with it sure, but if you apply some of the tactics we’ve laid out above, you may just get a chance for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing a pangolin while hiking in Taiwan.
Check out Parkbus Taiwan’s upcoming schedule to find destinations and dates that might allow you to get outdoors and spot one of the most illusive creatures on Earth – The Taiwanese Pangolin!
Still looking for more? Here is a great thread busting up a few other myths about the Pangolin.
“Pangolin scales are not a party drug” — @NatGeo— Waste Not Why Not (@wastenotpod) March 30, 2022
Pangolin scales are made of just #keratin, a protein that makes up fingernails, hair, horns, claws, hooves. It has no scientifically proven medicinal value. So no, it does not work as a tramadol substitute. https://t.co/W8O38jJvpS