Sunda pangolins are unusual mammals with tough, protective keratin scales. These prehistoric animals exist for 80 million years. They also have prehensile tails which they use to climb trees. Their body is covered by rows of scales and fibrous hair. The scales on the back and sides are olive-brown to yellowish in color. The hair on the underbelly and face is whitish to pale-brown. The skin of the Sunda pangolins' feet is granular and there are pads on the front feet. These animals have thick and powerful claws to dig into the soils in search of ant nests or to tear into termite mounds. Sunda pangolins have poor eyesight, but a highly developed sense of smell. Lacking teeth, their long, sticky tongue serves to collect ants and termites. Males in this species are larger than females.
Sunda pangolins are found throughout Southeast Asia, including Brunei, Cambodia, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, the Lesser Sunda Islands, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam. They live in primary, secondary, and scrub forests. They also can be found in cultivated areas such as gardens, oil palm and rubber plantations, including near human settlements.
Sunda pangolins are generally solitary but sometimes can be found in pairs. A large part of their life is spent in trees. They are nocturnal and behave timidly. They are strong diggers and make burrows lined with vegetation for insulation near termite mounds and ant nests. Sunda pangolins usually move slowly on all four feet unless threatened. When feeling danger these animals can move swiftly using only hindfeet and helping with their prehensile tail. When threatened, they also protect their soft underparts by rolling into balls. Sunda pangolins are also good swimmers.
It is suggested that Sunda pangolins are polygynous breeders which means that males mate with more than female. They breed in the autumn. Females give birth in the winter burrow to 1 or 2 offspring. The gestation periods usually last around 130 days. Newborn pangolins have soft scales, which harden after birth; they usually weigh from 100 to 500 g. Females nurse their young for three months and are extremely protective. The mother and her young usually travel and forage together and baby pangolins often ride on the mother's tail. When the mother senses danger, she will curl up into a tight ball with her young safely nestled within.
Pangolins are among the most heavily poached and exploited protected animals. Like other pangolin species, Sunda pangolins are hunted for their skin, scales, and meat, used in clothing manufacture and traditional medicine. Scales are made into rings as charms against rheumatic fever, and meat is eaten by indigenous peoples. Despite enjoying protected status almost everywhere in its range, illegal international trade, largely driven by Chinese buyers, has led to rapidly decreasing population numbers.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Sunda pangolin is unknown. Currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
Due to the insectivorous diet, these animals may affect insect populations in their range. It is estimated that every year adult Sunda pangolin eats about 70 million insects. By constructing burrows and digging in order to reach ants and termites, pangolins also aid in soil aeration.