A nomad mother in Singapore

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Pangolin down the drain

This morning I heard screaming, first Indah, our helper, and then my husband. I rushed over, thinking Indah had been bitten by a snake. Or attacked by a monkey. But no. When I arrived at the back of the house, I realised these were screams of excitement. 

In the concrete drain that surrounds our house, under the metal roster, we saw something wriggle. Something scaly. My heart leapt. I had been looking out for this creature ever since we found a dead one in the bushes behind our garden, it’s fishy nauseating smell permeating the house. It was a pangolin. 

The pangolin was rolled in a ball, and lying quite comfortably in the narrow concrete channel. Was it asleep? Was it stuck? We looked closer, at the scaly body. There was its nose, there its tail. And another nose. There were two pangolins in our drain!

One the one hand, they seemed quite comfortable, on the other hand, they did look like they might be stuck, the exit of this drain being far away at the other side of the house. We did fancy a better look as well, so we decided to lift the metal roster of the drain. 

The two pangolins, mother and baby, were amazing. Beautiful. What a Monday morning surprise. The pangolins were as surprised as we were, disturbed from they morning nap, and sniffed at us curiously. 

Pangolins are friendly, toothless animals that eat ants and termites. A trail of ants must have led them down our drain. They are mainly nocturnal, and our drain would have seemed a comfortable burrow to snooze in. The back of the pangolin is covered in hard scales, which felt hard to the touch when we stroked it, each scale hard like a tortoise shell. 

Their bellies are soft, and when in danger they roll up into a ball. This defensive behaviour does not prove very successful, as it makes them easy to pick up, and pangolins are extensively poached, especially by the Chinese. The flesh, apparently, tastes great, and the scales are used in Chinese medicine to treat anything from cancer to rheumatism. Because of this, the Sunda pangolin is now critically endangered in Singapore. Yet there are two of them sleeping in our drain, right now. 

Pangolins can eat up to 200.000 ants in just one day. That makes them far better at pest control than the company we use. They are welcome guests. We hope they will stay for a while!

If you are lucky to see a pangolin or similar rare mammal somewhere in the wild in Singapore, you can report your sighting here, to help researchers learn more about their behaviour, so they can protect them better. More information on the status of Singapore's Sunda Pangolin you can find here


  1. Ze hebben waarschijnlijk wel last van al dat gif dat gespoten wordt. Zonde. Wat een leuke beestjes. Zitten ze er nog steeds?

    1. Ja, ze liggen lekker te slapen. En gelukkig is er al een tijdje noet gesproten, en komen ze voorlopig niet. En ze etend e mieren op ;)

  2. Dear Karien,
    Thank you so much for the post and sharing the sighting, in an educational way. Please do give us a call at 9783 7782 if you realise that they are not moving away at night. This number is our 24-hr wildlife rescue hotline, and we will be glad to be of assistance if needed.
    Warmest regards - Anbu from ACRES Singapore.

    1. Thanks, they have left this morning. I think they wil be fine, our area is very green, only a few houses and little traffic, and we border McRitchie Nature Reserve as well.

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