WATCH: Louis the pangolin reintroduced into the wild after being saved from poachers

2019-06-11 07:06
Louis the pangolin slowly being reintroduced into the wild.

Louis the pangolin slowly being reintroduced into the wild. (Endangered Wildlife Trust)

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A pangolin - the world's most-poached mammal - that was saved from poachers is slowly being reintroduced into the wild. And he has a new mate, to boot.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) last week announced that Louis - as the rescued pangolin has affectionately been nicknamed - has entered the slow release process on a reserve in Zululand.

Louis was saved from certain death in the illegal trade in a sting operation by the EWT and H12Leshiba Game Reserve staff, with support from the African Pangolin Working Group and the SA Police Service on May 4.

The suspects had contacted the reserve to offer the pangolin to them for R80 000, but were exposed by an informant, who negotiated with the sellers while the team put the sting operation in place.

But the suspects were tipped off and fled the scene before they could be arrested. However, a woman and children in the house led the team to the room where the animal was being kept.

Louis has since been recovering from his ordeal under the expert care of the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital (JWVH), and last week the process required to return him to the wild, where he belongs, began.

Dr Karin Lourens, the JWVH's resident veterinarian, told News24 that pangolins were poached at an alarming rate, as their scales are considered medicinal in Asian countries – much like rhino horn.

"Last year alone, 60 tons of scales were found - that's 400 000 individual animals that were killed," Lourens said.

"Combine elephant, rhino, lions… you don't get close to that number."

pangolin

Louis the pangolin when he was rescued from poachers in May. (Endangered Wildlife Trust)


While initial plans were for Louis to be released in the Soutpansberg area, where he was rescued, he will now form part of a reintroduction of the species to the Zululand area, according to the EWT.

Joined by a new friend

Louis is joined by a pregnant female pangolin, who was also rescued from the illegal trade. Together, they offer hope for the future of the species in the area.

The first phase of the slow release process involves the pangolins being walked into the area of eventual release every evening. After a sufficient foraging session, they will go back into their sleeping box where they will sleep until the next foraging session.

This daily process usually continues for between three and five days, but it may take longer, depending on the individual animals and how they adapt and behave. The process is always closely guided by a staff member so that the pangolins' behaviour can be monitored and correctly interpreted.

pangolin

Louis the pangolin will be reintroduced into the wild. (Endangered Wildlife Trust)


Once the animals have settled and are displaying normal behaviour, they will be released.

Post-release monitoring will be done through very-high-frequency and satellite telemetry units that have been fitted to these pangolins. For the first three weeks, Louis and his partner must be found twice a day and a visual observation recorded – type of habitat, burrow type, and behaviour.

The monitor needs to observe the animals feeding and record the ant species.

"It is critical to weigh the animals in the field so that we can ascertain that they are indeed feeding properly. This is important because weight loss is the first indication that Louis or his partner may not be doing well, and we can then act before it is too late," the EWT said. 

Monitoring essential

Thereafter, they must be located twice a week for a further three months, then once per week for the remainder of the year. After that, they will hopefully have settled in an area and monitoring can continue as desired.

"This release process, and the monitoring that accompanies it, is imperative if we want to ensure the continued safety and well-being of these precious pangolins. There have been many instances where these traumatised animals have deteriorated post-release and had to be readmitted to hospital, or worse, have succumbed to their illnesses. Indeed, even with a slow release process, there is around a 20% chance of a relapse. This makes fitting tracking devices, and monitoring these animals regularly, absolutely essential.

karin

Dr Karin Lourens of the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital with one of her beloved pangolins. (Supplied)

"We are so grateful to all of our wonderful supporters who have donated towards Louis' recovery and release thus far. You have helped us to reach R40 000 of our R122 000 goal.

"The money raised thus far will cover Louis' tracking device and some of the costs of his rehabilitation. But we need to make sure he is effectively monitored for at least three months, and preferably a year. These tracking data will also give us a better understanding of the behaviour of these elusive creatures, helping us to conserve not just Louis, but many more pangolins in the future."

Humans are their only enemy

According to Lourens, it is impossible to determine how many pangolins are left in the world. They are nocturnal and live underground and in enclosed areas such as caves.

"Their scales are so tough that an adult lion can't penetrate them. That's how they have survived for 80 million years, because they have no natural predator.

"They now have only one enemy – humans."

You can donate by clicking here.

Read more on:    endangered wildlife trust  |  conservation  |  pangolin
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