Africa’s Pint-Sized Tree Pangolins

Africa’s Pint-Sized Tree Pangolins

Guy Colborne

By Rina Herzl

The world's two smallest pangolins, the white-bellied and black-bellied pangolins, are found in Central and West Africa. They are the continent's only arboreal pangolin species.

A white-bellied pangolin beginning to climb.

Guy Colborne

Also known as the tree pangolin or three-cusped pangolin, the white-bellied pangolin lives in forested habitats across numerous countries, from Guinea to northern Angola to Rwanda. They are semi-arboreal, spending time both in trees and on the ground, with a semi-prehensile tail and tail pads used for climbing. The white-bellied pangolin is distinguished by its thinner, three-cusped scales and its smaller size, weighing on average 2.2 to 4.4 pounds. These pangolins are heavily poached for local use and international trafficking and are listed as Endangered.

A black-bellied pangolin in a tree.

Anita Mishra

The tiniest and most arboreal of all of the world’s pangolins is the black-bellied pangolin, also known as the long-tailed pangolin. Spending nearly all its time in trees, this pocket-sized pangolin has the most adapted tail for its life in the canopies. The black-bellied pangolin has a remarkably long tail containing up to 47 vertebrae and measuring up to 2 feet long. It is also the most agile, prehensile, and padded tail amid pangolins. Black-bellied pangolins have the smallest body size; although they are similar in weight to white-bellied pangolins, their lengthy tail contributes to most of their total weight. With their keen tree-dwelling adaptations, black-bellied pangolins inhabit lush forests from Sierra Leone to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The species is currently listed as Vulnerable.