Conservation of rare and declining species requires reliable information about life‐history traits and population growth characteristics. Unfortunately, long‐term studies necessary to obtain such data are often difficult or impossible for species of concern. In such cases, data that can be collected during limited capture events can serve as valuable proxies. We measured metabolic characteristics of Temminck’s ground pangolin Smutsia temminckii because metabolic traits provide clues about relative gestation length, reproductive output and population growth, all of which were largely unknown for this species. As expected, both basal and field metabolic rates are considerably lower than would be predicted from body mass alone, suggesting pangolins are likely to have slow life histories and low intrinsic population growth. Such characteristics suggest Temminck’s ground pangolins (and likely all pangolins) are less able to persist under heavy poaching and trafficking than other similarly sized mammals and will likely recover slowly even if poaching and trafficking are stopped. While physiological data cannot be used to directly calculate population growth rates, we believe they may provide a tangible data source to inform management decisions for critically endangered, difficult‐to‐study species.