Hopeful News As A Pangolin Pup Was Born After Their Mother Was Saved From Wildlife Traffickers In South Africa

Photos by: Manyoni Private Game Reserve

On Saturday, Humane Society International/Africa acknowledged a powerful collaboration with the African Pangolin Working Group and the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital to retrieve, rehabilitate, and release vulnerable Temminck’s pangolins back into the wild.

One of the many success stories is that of Cory, a pangolin who was rescued from poachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now released back into the wild after rehabilitation, a camera trap revealed that Cory gave birth to a pango-pup who was filmed clinging to her back.

Pangolins are the world’s only scaled mammals. They are ruthlessly poached for their scales— mistakenly believed to have curative properties in traditional Asian medicine—as well as for meat, which is eaten as a delicacy in some Asian countries. They are incredibly vulnerable and submissive creatures with no teeth who are unable to defend themselves or run away from danger. Their only means of defense is to curl into a ball, which ironically makes them even more vulnerable to poachers who can easily pick them up.

The population of pangolins in the wild is unknown as they are very difficult to spot. All species of pangolins are classified as either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. In 2019, 97 tons of African pangolin scales were trafficked from Africa, which equates to roughly 160,000 individual pangolins.

“Pangolins are officially the world’s most trafficked mammal. This is devastating for a species whose cryptic status means that little is known about how many actually exist in the wild. Every pangolin saved from the trade and successfully reintroduced back into the wild is a conservation success,” said Dr. Audrey Delsink, wildlife director for Humane Society International/Africa. “The birth of this pango-pup signifies hope that with better enforcement of laws prohibiting pangolin trafficking and continued work on rehabilitating and protecting these iconic animals, we can halt the rapid decline in pangolin populations.”

Cory, the pangolin, was one of several of her species retrieved from a crime intelligence-led sting operation in Johannesburg during the pandemic. Law enforcement officials discovered Cory concealed in a zipped sports bag and in very poor condition as she had been held captive for approximately 10 days without food or water, and surely experienced extreme psychological stress during this time.

Cory was treated at the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital where she was initially weighed in at an underweight 4.9 kilograms. Although Cory’s condition was poor, she seemed to be free of any physical injuries and was deemed likely to recover fairly easily.

After a month of rehabilitation, Cory was transported to Manyoni Private Game Reserve for an initial ‘soft’ release. Cory still needed to gain weight to reach 6.5 kilograms before she could safely be released back into the wild, so she was fitted with two telemetry tags for monitoring—a VHF (very high frequency) and a satellite device generously sponsored by The Boucher Legacy— attached painlessly to one of her scales.

Cory was eventually released in 2020 at a Zululand-based reserve where she and another tagged pangolin were observed using the satellite data and a camera trap the specialist Manyoni team placed in front of Cory’s burrow.

Last week, merely days before World Pangolin Day, Cory and her pup were spotted inside her burrow and both mum and pup are thriving in their natural habitat. This birth has signaled the overall success of the program to retrieve, rehabilitate, and reintroduce Temminck’s pangolins back into KwaZulu Natal’s wilderness where they had been locally extinct for around four decades.

Four traffickers were arrested by the South African Police Service Cullinan Stock Theft and the Endangered Species Unit for the poaching of Cory. One of the perpetrators was found guilty and sentenced to three years in jail or a R10,000 fine.

Note: All pangolins who are treated at the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital are kept off-site for safety and security.

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