Fighting to Protect a Population in Crisis
Incredible, adaptable, and covered in armor, Pangolins, while an absolute treasure of nature are rapidly facing extinction in our time. Secretive and able to roll up into a perfect ball if threatened, Pangolins are found only in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa yet today they are the most trafficked animal on earth. In fact, numbers wise there is more poaching of Pangolins happening than there is Rhino poaching.
Poaching for illegal wildlife trade has made these incredible creatures one of the most endangered groups of mammals in the world. Pangolins are poached for their scales which like the Rhino’s horn are made of Keratin, which is the same substance as a human beings finger nails.
99FM’s MYD Earth spoke to Maria Diekmann from REST (Rare and Endangered Species Trust) a woman known globally for the work she does for the protection of Pangolins here in Namibia.
Maria is most known for the fact that she has raised Pangolin babies, released Pangolins to the wild, witnessed how the animals mate, worked out how to age them and so much more. Valuable information about these animals that no one in the world has managed to gather on Pangolins.
99FM’s MYD Earth asked :
Many people don’t even know what Pangolins are – can you tell us a bit about these interesting animals?
“Many of the “facts” people know about pangolins are wrong. Simply because they seldom survive if kept or born in captivity. They are mainly nocturnal in summer but not winter. Pangolins are very shy creatures and to date less than 5 people in the world have managed to raise a baby African pangolin. Most of the time, a captured adult will simply curl into a ball out of fear and die of hunger, thirst and shock. I believe we are the only ones in the world that had a pangolin for over 3 years that got no artificial diet, which most refuse in captivity. These animals must forage for 3-5 hours a day in huge areas. The dedication to follow them for research and monitoring means that every day come rain, shine or holiday, we are working. The babies become very bonded to one person and must sleep and eat through the night next to that person as they would their mother.”
“Yes unfortunately. We didn’t realize how bad it was until about 2 years ago when we started to uncover tons of Pangolin scales while trying to search for illegal Rhino horn trade. These shipments we uncovered had 5,000- 20,000 tons of Pangolin scales each time. At this rate pangolins will be extinct with a decade.”
“So little is known about them but it’s believed they have one pup no more than once every year or two. No captive breeding of African pangolin has ever been successful which means, unlike with Rhinos, we can’t supplement the wild population which is in a crisis.”
What are Pangolins poached for?
“Many people in Asia say Pangolin scales are replacing the beliefs of the power of rhino horn. Meanwhile the scales are just like human fingernails. They are made of the same substance and will grow and break like fingernails so they have no medicinal powers to them. Another awful factor in the illegal Pangolin trade is that they have become a way to show that you have money. Nowadays, shark fin soup is out but a live African Pangolin is brought to the table. Its throat slit and the animals blood consumed for vitality. After this it is cooked at table to show you have money to pay for such a rarity. Even though completely illegal, restaurants are still serving up such barbaric cruelty.”
Is Pangolin poaching a problem in Namibia?
“Yes, it is a huge problem and on the increase in past 2 years. The increase is mostly attributed to people thinking they will get high sums of money if they poach them, because they sell for high sums of money in Hong Kong for example. This is not the case as the poachers get only small sums for the animals that still need to be transported illegally. Also most of the will die during transportation and are then not sold.”
What can be done about the poaching here?
“Don’t buy them. If someone wants to sell one, have them contact me. I too will not buy the Pangolin as I believe it stimulates trade but I can usually convince them to give it to me when they see the animal is dying. If you find one while driving around, take a quick picture but don’t pick it up as the animal stresses considerably. Also never move it as their territories are vital to them.”
Why is it important we protect these animals?
“Firstly, because we can. But also, Pangolins are totally harmless to any human activities. They eat thousands of ants and termites daily which can be a pest to humans. They are special treasures to our country which can bring in tourism revenue if seen as so rare.”
Right now I am looking after a baby named Honey Bun after Harald Bartsch from Varta Batteries Namibia who is a huge supporter. Every evening we go for a foraging walk for a few hours in the bush. When the light goes low and she is tired, she comes to me and stands on her hind legs and reaches up my leg so she can be picked up and taken home. Once back she gets a special milk formula but will only go to sleep if I lay down with her. Normally the mom curls around them so I have to do the same for her to sleep. She rolls into a ball with my arms surrounding her. We will sniff a few goodnight sniffs to each other and then she sleeps. A demanding baby as every 1-2 hours throughout the night I get up to feed her milk, however it’s all worth it.