Pangolins favoured by poachers

Published Jan 22, 2019


DURBAN - Slowly the tiny ball in the wooden crate began to unwind. Its scales moved and a pointy nose followed by two black button eyes emerged. Natalie was entranced. The baby pangolin unwrapped its tail, holding out its front legs and gazed at her, asking to be picked up. It was love at first sight. Natalie Rogers is a veterinary nurse, used to caring for all sorts of African animals - but this young pangolin is a first for her.

Ramphy - named after the Good Samaritan who had seen it fall off the back of a pick-up truck and bounce onto the tarmac, was brought into the Limpopo based Rhino Revolution at the end of October. It is thought that his mother was also on the vehicle, having been taken by poachers to be sold - alive or frozen - as food and fake medicine in Asia.

Rogers recalled: “When Ramphy first arrived, he used to shake every time I opened his box. It was heart-breaking to realise that he was trembling from fear, missing his mother and terrified what this human was going to do to him. He has now calmed down and it touches my heart to see him with his little front arms outstretched, wanting to be picked up. He just wants to curl round my neck”.

Young pangolins stay with their mother until they are about a year old, riding on their mum’s back, and so Ramphy wants close contact for reassurance.

He is one of eight pangolins that have been brought to the Rhino Revolution orphanage since September. Rhino Revolution has formed an alliance with the African Pangolin Working Group to provide a rehabilitation service and centre for pangolins being seized from poachers in the Lowveld, Mpumalanga.

Pangolins are now the world’s most illegally traded mammal. They are being seized from poachers by the Hemmersbach Anti-Poaching Unit. After being kept illegally in captivity the pangolins arrive severely compromised - very stressed, badly malnourished and dehydrated.

The rescued pangolins require round the clock medical care and support. They are being fed with a supplementary protein feed, via a feeding tube, to try to improve their nutrition.

At night, if well enough, the pangolin are “walked” in the bush for them to find their own food supply of ants and termites, to encourage natural feeding behaviours and dietary intake as soon as possible. They are accompanied by an armed guard for security reasons.

“It is exhausting work, looking after the pangolins” explained Rogers. “Pangolins are mainly nocturnal, and walking in the bush can take many hours every night.”

Rhino Revolution’s aim is to release the pangolins back into the wild as soon as possible - once they are healthy and weigh more than 5kg. The first pangolins have already been released, each wearing a GPS and VHF tracker, so their progress and wellbeing can be monitored remotely. They are being released into secure reserves in areas as near to where they were found as possible, and monitored remotely by researchers.

For more information visit or [email protected] Conservation Action Trust. 

- The Conversation Action Trust

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