Assessing Habitat Use and Anthropogenic Threats of Temminck’s Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) in southern Kenya

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


All eight pangolin species are threatened and are collectively considered the most trafficked mammal group in the world. Temminck’s pangolin (Smutsia temminckii; hereafter “pangolin”) are an elusive and low-density species that are undergoing population decline due to poaching for traditional medicine uses, spiritual purposes, and bushmeat consumption. They also experience road mortalities caused by vehicular collisions, as well as electrocutions on electric fences. There are significant knowledge gaps in pangolin ecology, including habitat use and how it relates to these anthropogenic threats. The current research utilised field studies, citizen science, and remote sensing in Kenya and South Africa to address these gaps.

There has been limited ecological research on this species in East Africa to date. To investigate small scale habitat use within home ranges, burrow choice of pangolins was monitored through camera trapping and radio-tracking in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Pangolins utilise burrows created by aardvarks (Orycteropus afer) rather than create their own. This means aardvark burrow presence is likely important for determining pangolin habitat use in Kenya. Five characteristics of aardvark burrows were evaluated for pangolin preference. Pangolins were generalists when it came to utilisation based on these characteristics, although burrows with large entrances were avoided due to presumed predator evasion. These results were the first in East Africa to evaluate pangolin burrow use and additionally provided aardvark distribution and burrow density data.

In addition to burrow presence, there are likely other environmental factors that influence pangolin distribution and habitat use. To evaluate wider-scale pangolin habitat use, habitat suitability models were generated using remotely sensed environmental variables and citizen science reports. This was conducted for both Narok County and all of Kenya, and revealed that moderate rainfall, topography above 1500 m, and eight soil types were the main predictors of distribution. This is the first study to generate such models for pangolins outside of South Africa. Further, a risk model (the first created for pangolins) was generated using anthropogenic variables to predict areas of high threats, which indicated areas with close proximity to roads and human populations as the largest potential threats within Kenya. Fences were indicated as a lesser threat, whereas they are known to cause numerous mortalities in South Africa. This difference between Kenya and South Africa is likely due to a lower amount of electric fencing in East Africa.
Date of AwardSept 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorBryony Tolhurst (Supervisor), Samuel Penny (Supervisor), Niall Burnside (Supervisor) & Andre Ganswindt (Supervisor)

Cite this