Successful captive breeding of a Malayan pangolin population to the third filial generation

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Pangolins are threatened placental mammals distributed in Africa and Asia. Many efforts have been undertaken in the last century to maintain pangolins in captivity, but only a few of them succeeded in maintaining and keeping this species in a controlled environment. This study reports the first systematic breeding of the Critically Endangered Malayan pangolin (Manis javanica) in captivity. Our captive breeding approach successfully improved the reproductive rate for both wild and captive-born female pangolins. From 2016 to 2020, we had 33 wild pangolins and produced 49 captive-born offspring spanning three filial generations. The female offspring further bred 18 offspring, of which 14 (78%) were conceived during the first time of cohabitation with males, and four offspring were conceived during the second cohabitation event, suggesting that they may practice copulation-induced ovulation. We observed that captive-born female pangolins could reach sexual maturity at 7–9 months (n = 4), and male pangolins could mate and successfully fertilise females at nine months age (n = 1). We also observed a female pangolin conceiving on the eighth day after parturition (the fifth day after the death of its pup). Our captive pangolins had a female-biased sex ratio of 1:0.5 at birth, unlike other known captive-born mammals. Also, captive-born pangolins were generally more viable after successful weaning and had a similar gestation length (~185 days) to wild pangolins. Most importantly, we report the first self-sustaining captive population of Malayan pangolins, and this species has an efficient reproduction strategy. These advances provide more comprehensive information for people to understand pangolins, and have implications for conserving endangered Malayan pangolins and providing scientific guidance to the management of other pangolin species.

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Communications Biology



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