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A rare ground pangolin Smutsia temminckii was recently given a new lease on life when it was translocated to the safety of a rehabilitation facility after it was seized in the Western Cape last month.

CapeNature Scientific Manager Guy Palmer takes a closer look at the scaled visitor. © CapeNature
CapeNature scientific manager Guy Palmer takes a closer look at the scaled visitor. © CapeNature

While it may appear a cute animal to some, pangolins are not indigenous to the Western Cape and it is illegal to possess them in the province. Thus, this endangered wild animal had to be transported to another province where it could be reintroduced into a natural habitat.

CapeNature’s Scientific Services staff were forced to act quickly when the rare animal was brought to their offices in Stellenbosch as they can easily become dehydrated.

Says mammal ecologist at CapeNature, Coral Birss: “We had to be very careful while looking after the animal as pangolins generally struggle in captivity because of their very specific diet and unique digestive systems. Ground pangolins are also very timid animals, so when they are startled their natural instinct is to curl up into a ball. We were able to successfully keep the animal comfortable and hydrated, and after a while he was confidently moving about in our office.”

After a brief stay under the watchful care of CapeNature’s scientific services, the pangolin was flown to safety by a private pilot facilitated by The Bateleurs – an organisation which provides flying missions for conservation and the environment.

The pangolin arrives safely at his destination after a long flight. © CapeNature
The pangolin arrives safely at his destination after a long flight. © CapeNature

Upon arrival at his destination, the animal was responsive and strong. There were no abrasions or tissue trauma and no broken scales either. Blood samples were taken for DNA and parasitology purposes. His hind-feet were not spongy (associated with extended captivity) and his mouth and eyes were healthy.

He was then taken outside to walk and forage for a while to stretch his muscles and relax a little before rediscovering his habitat.

About the Ground Pangolin, Smutsia temminckii

Pangolins are considered one of the most trafficked mammals in the world because of their scales which are used in traditional medicine and their meat which is considered a delicacy in the East.

They are internationally protected and listed as vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red Data List of Threatened Species (IUCN).

Pangolins have very small eyes and poor eyesight. They rely greatly on their strong sense of smell as well as their hearing to locate prey items. They dig into ant mounds with their powerful claws and then use their long, flicking tongue to pick up their prey.

A closer look at the rare ground pangolin.  © CapeNature
A closer look at the rare ground pangolin. © CapeNature

They have a unique stomach containing small rocks and pebbles which are consumed to aid in digestion.  The stones together with strong stomach walls which have protruding points enable the animals to crush and break down their food to aid digestion.  Feeding is presumably reliant on the ability of the animal to move its body due to the required mechanics of the stomach and the physiology of the tongue.

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