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WATCH | Pangolin reintroduced to Zululand after 70 years

For more than 70 years the endangered Temminck's ground pangolin has not roamed the plains of Zululand after it became become locally extinct decades ago.

Now, in a world first for the endangered species, a number of conservation organisations are working tirelessly to change this.

A reintroduction programme has been launched to release this species back into a private game reserve in Zululand, northern KwaZulu-Natal.

In a statement on Thursday, the Zululand Conservation Trust (ZCT) said Manyoni Private Game Reserve in Zululand was working with the African Pangolin Working Group, HSI Africa and Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital (JWVH) to rehome Temminck's ground pangolins that had been rescued from the wildlife trade.

The pangolins in the programme were poached from the wild and eventually rescued in sting operations conducted by the police and the Green Scorpions.

“When survivors arrive at the JWVH they receive intensive care and are nursed back to health by a dedicated team and, once they are strong enough, the pangolins are taken to a suitable reserve (Manyoni being one of the sites) where the 'soft release' process begins.”

With staggering poaching statistics severely threatening the species, pangolins have been dubbed the world's most trafficked mammal.

Much like rhino horn, the pangolin scales are highly sought after in the illegal wildlife trade. Pangolins do not have vocal cords and their only defence is to roll into a ball and lie very still. Sadly, these defensive mechanisms make them extremely vulnerable to poachers and very easy for poachers to conceal them.

While in the hands of poachers, pangolins deteriorate due to stress, dehydration and lack of food.

“It is for this reason that the Zululand Conservation Trust has dedicated a large portion of our conservation funds towards the protection, rehabilitation and monitoring of these incredible animals.”

Manyoni MD Karen Odendaal said the reintroduction of pangolins back into their historical range was a bittersweet moment.

“It is great to be part of such an amazing conservation programme but so sad that they became locally extinct in the first place.” 

With hardened scales made of keratin to protect their soft bodies, and the ability to roll up into a tight ball when threatened, the pangolin is an incredibly prehistoric-looking creature.

Leno Seirra, Zululand field manager for the African Pangolin Working Group (APWG), said as with many conservation projects, the need for resources is one of the major factors for this programme to continue and succeed.

“We need a number of resources such as vehicles and personal and specialised equipment. Once individuals arrive on site, they undergo a multistage soft release process which is tailored for each animal and can last up to four months before the final release phase. Thereafter, they are monitored very closely using specialised satellite tracking devices to track their movements and locate them daily to check their weight, tick load and general condition.”

Seirra said they were now working with a two-year-old pangolin named Cory — a name derived from the global pandemic coronavirus.  

Frances Hannah, ZCT project co-ordinator, said the rehabilitation of the Temminck's pangolin is an intensive programme as the animals require around-the-clock monitoring to ensure they acclimatise, are finding suitable food and gain weight.

“The ZCT has been involved in the hands-on monitoring and soft release process, and has funded the equipment needed to ensure reliable monitoring. The Temminck's pangolin has not roamed Zululand for nearly 70 years so this is a historic moment for us and an incredible project of proactive conservation of an extremely endangered species.”



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