The Born Free-supported Sangha Pangolin Project (SSP) is based at Sangha Lodge, located in southern Central African Republic. Nestled within biodiversity-rich evergreen rainforest, the lodge sits on a small peninsula of the mighty Sangha River and is only accessible by long car and boat journeys. From this beautiful and remote location, the SSP team works to protect pangolins through their pioneering rescue, rehabilitation and release programme.
As the world’s most trafficked mammal, Pangolins are under constant threat. They are killed for their meat, whilst their scales are used in traditional Asian medicines. Illegal logging and deforestation can also cause pangolins to be abandoned or orphaned. Young pangolins are brought to Sangha Lodge for a number of reasons. In recent years, the team have cared for a large number of pangolins rescued from the illegal bushmeat trade, as well as orphans brought to the centre having been found alone in the forest and in desperate need of help.
Some of the pangolins at Sangha Lodge only require a small amount of care and can be quickly returned to the wild. Others are brought in injured or malnourished and need intensive care followed by weeks or months of carful rehabilitation before they are ready for release. For the most vulnerable pangolins, the SSP team provides round-the-clock care. This includes, bottle feeding with a replacement milk formula, veterinary treatment, and close monitoring. As they grow stronger, they are encouraged to forage independently for ants and termites and eventually they start to develop essential survival skills such as how to break open ant mounds, and climb trees.
When they are strong enough and have learned how to survive on their own, the SSP team prepares the pangolins for a ‘soft release’. They are taken to a protected part of the forest, where they can explore their surroundings, and eventually they start to increase their range, venturing further into their natural habitat. The SSP team tracks and monitors the pangolins in the weeks following their release, and when they feel the time is right, the monitoring comes to an end and the pangolins are fully independent. It is important at this stage for the team to leave the area as the presence of people can deter potential mates from approaching the released pangolins, and affect their chances of thriving back in the wild.
Since 2012 SSP have released 100 pangolins back into the forest. The team continue to develop their work with local communities, share research with other groups around the world and continue their efforts to help individual pangolins in need.
Image © Sangha Pangolin Project, Maja Gudehus