It is an enigmatic and highly intelligent animal known as a "mischievous escape artist". However, the luck of the pangolin has finally run out, say conservationists. This extraordinary creature is being slaughtered on an industrial scale and faces being eaten to extinction.
Believed to be the world's most trafficked animal, a single pangolin can fetch as much as $7,000 (£4,300) on the black market.
The pangolin – unique among mammals because of its reptilian scales – is considered a delicacy in parts of Asia. Its scales are also used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat conditions that include inward-growing eyelashes, boils and poor circulation.
Its conservation status is being reviewed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and two species, the Chinese and the sunda (Malayan pangolin), are likely to be designated as "critically endangered" next year.
Pangolins, largely nocturnal ant-eaters, roll up in a ball when threatened and their scales are so tough that a lion cannot bite through them. But this defence mechanism makes it easy prey for poachers.
However, Dan Challender, of the IUCN said the "mischievous" animals were famed as "escape artists". Traffickers have been known to nail their tails to the floor to prevent them running away.
The pangolin population in China is thought to have fallen by up to 94 per cent since the 1960s. This has driven traffickers to raid populations in India, Pakistan and Africa.
Mr Challender said the four species in Asia could be extinct in as little as 20 years. The four African species may last longer.
Lisa Hywood, who takes in rescued pangolins at the Tikki Hywood Trust, a conservation centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, said: "I believe that the pangolin is as much at risk of becoming extinct as the rhino.Probably more so."Reuse content