Pangolins: Elusive and Endangered

A visualization exploring pangolins, the most trafficked mammal in the world.





Over the past decade, it is estimated that over one million pangolins have been taken from the wild. They are trafficked mainly for their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, and as an exotic food in China and Vietnam. Scientists do not know how many pangolins remain due to their elusive nature, but given their rarity and the numbers seen in trade, they warn that all eight species may be on the brink of extinction.



The pangolin data visualization provides a comprehensive overview of pangolins, including a description of the animal, their current population status, issues contributing to their endangerment as well as trafficking data.


Research Objectives 

  • Understand the current status of pangolin populations

  • Understand pangolins as a unique animal and their threats and vulnerabilities

  • Evaluate how illegal trade has changed over the past two decades

  • Understand the countries involved in trafficking and to what extent

  • Answer the question: Why are pangolins on the brink of extinction?

data Visualization

Pangolins are nocturnal and solitary animals and are the only mammal to be covered in scales, which are composed of keratin, the same as human nails. When threatened, they curl up into a tight ball, rather than attempting to escape, making them easy prey for hunters. They also have a low rate of reproduction and a high mortality rate in captivity, which increases their vulnerability to extinction. Besides poaching, pangolins are threatened by electric fencing, pesticides and deforestation.


All eight species, four Asian and four African, are identified on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. As the Asian species plummet, African species are increasingly sourced and shipped to China and Vietnam, the largest markets of pangolin products.


The cost of pangolin scales and meat has increased over the past decade due to demand. This increase is reflected by the increasing frequency of seizures. This may indicate that illegal trade is also increasing.


Countries and territories outside of Asia and Africa also play a role in pangolin trafficking. Commercial trading restrictions have failed to reduce trafficking. Ultimately to reduce trafficking, the demand must decrease, as WildAid puts it “When the buying stops, so can the killing”



Data Sources

All data was collected from reputable organizations and sources, such as:

  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

  • International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)

  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

  • WildAid


Data Exploration

The CITES Trade Database is managed by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) on behalf of the CITES Secretariat and currently holds over 13 million records of trade in wildlife. This data was used to visualize countries and territories involved in pangolin trade incidents between 2010 and 2015. The following charts were created in Excel to quickly visualize the data before moving into the design phase


Visual Exploration

Various design styles and typefaces were considered. The chosen visual style speaks best to the severity of the issue and appeals to a wide audience. Source Sans Pro was chosen as the primary typeface for its versatility and readability.  Din Condensed Bold was selected for headers as it offers a nice contrast to the wider Source Sans Pro and is highly readable when capitalized. 




narrative structure

The vertical layout proved more appropriate for the narrative structure as it could be divided from top to bottom into three general sections including what a pangolin is, why it is on the brink of extinction and finally the data to support the previous information. Below are some horizontal layout considerations.