Pangi the pangolin was found as a starving baby and nursed back to health by the caring staff at the Born Free-supported Sangha Lodge in the Central African Republic, where they look after orphaned pangolins before returning them to the wild.
Not everyone has heard of a pangolin, yet they are the world’s most heavily trafficked wild mammal – 100,000 are killed every year.
There are eight species of pangolin, four in Africa and four in Asia. Pangolins are the only mammals known to have plate-like scales. When threatened, they roll up into a ball, with the scales forming an armoured exterior to protect them from predators. The scales are made of keratin (the same protein that makes up human hair and nails), which hardens as the pangolins reach maturity. Unfortunately, when rolled into a ball, they become extremely vulnerable to poachers as they can be easily picked up and put into a bag.
Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in some countries and their body parts, particularly their scales, claws, blood and bones are used in so-called traditional Asian ‘medicines’. Deforestation and loss of their natural habitat is also a threat to pangolins. But in Asia, it is largely due to the ongoing wildlife trade which is causing them to be driven to the edge of extinction. Both the Sunda and the Chinese pangolin are now listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Within the rainforest, some pangolins are ground dwellers, who spend most of their time foraging on the forest floor and in burrows. Others, like Pangi, are canopy dwellers and spend the majority of their time in trees and tree hollows. Canopy dwellers have prehensile tails, which they can use to grasp onto branches, and are good climbers.
Rod and Tamar Cassidy, who run Sangha Lodge, say: “To our great joy, it has now been more than two years since Pangi became a free-ranging canopy dweller in the Sangha forest on our doorstep. She is most easily seen foraging for ants wherever their nests occur, high up in the trees, and seldom comes down to the ground.”
Relatively little is known about pangolins. Sangha Lodge monitors and records a variety of information, such as their use of habitat, feeding preferences, behaviour and interactions. Over the last two years they have recorded Pangi’s sleeping places in trees and will soon have a good idea of her home-range size and her movements within it. She tends to spend most of her time between two preferred areas, possibly due to seasonal changes or the availability of her main food source – ants, which she spends most of her day searching for!
“Besides obtaining valuable information about black-bellied pangolins from these daily records, we observe a strong sense of responsibility by the Ba’aka [indigenous trackers] towards Pangi. We hope that this increased sensitivity towards pangolins, and awareness of the value of their conservation, will trickle down among the local population,” the Cassidy’s add.
Help Sangha Lodge and Born Free continue their vital work to rescue and rehabilitate endangered pangolins by adopting Pangi today.