Behavioral Monitoring of the Endangered White-Bellied Pangolin


Written by Jocelyn Woods, Behavioral Research Assistant

When people think of illegally trafficked animals, most do not think or have never heard of the world’s most trafficked mammal, the pangolin (“What is a Pangolin?”). Since the Chicago Zoological Society took action to help save the white-bellied pangolin about five years ago, we have learned a lot about their species. Brookfield Zoo became one of the only institutions in the United States to successfully rear healthy pangolin offspring, make huge strides in understanding and replicating a healthy pangolin diet with our full time nutritionist, and make advancements in understanding pangolin physiology through frequent veterinary checkups (“Protecting Pangolins”). All of this knowledge is essential to protect this highly trafficked species.

Over the last several months, animal care staff and the animal welfare research staff have taken additional steps to learn more about the behavior of the pangolins in our care at Brookfield Zoo. Exceptional veterinary and nutritional care is essential, but behavioral data of a species can shed light on or add additional information to questions which may not be easily answered by veterinarians and nutritionists. Behavioral data are commonly collected of animals around the zoo as a part of different animal welfare research projects. From this data we can learn about an animal’s activity budget (day-to-day activities) or ask more in-depth questions about their behavior. Just like all of you spend different amounts of time eating, sleeping, working and playing, we are curious how the pangolin spend their time.


The questions researchers and animal care staff want to ask about the animal determines which behaviors are focused on during observations and which are listed on the species’ ethogram. In terms of the pangolins, such little is known about their behavior so researchers need to start with simple questions and broad categories of behaviors. Questions such as how the pangolins use their exhibit, which enrichment items they use most frequently, or even, what they spend the majority of their time doing, will provide valuable insight into their behavior and will help the Society as well as other facilities provide the best possible care for pangolins. Once basic questions are studied and answered, the Society can begin to focus on more detailed questions which give insight into things such as social behavior of pangolins, gestation length, mother-infant interactions, mating behaviors, and so on.

As stated previously, since this is a beginning study of a species which very little is known about, the behaviors we record during observations are very basic and broad. For example, recording “Locomote” instead of types of locomotion such as walking, climbing, etc. Having these broad categories still gives us extremely valuable insight into which activities the pangolins most frequently or infrequently display without making the ethogram too complex and confusing for the observers.

As for the future of pangolin observations here at the Brookfield Zoo, we hope to fine-tune the behaviors we record in order to reflect questions animal care staff are interested in answering. This will involve making behaviors more specific and eliminating behaviors that are not relevant. We look forward to learning more about this amazing endangered species in order to continue to contribute to their conservation.

Posted: 8/5/2019 2:36:31 PM by Sean Keeley Filed under: pangolin

CZS & Brookfield Zoo

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


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