A second chance hospital for the pangolins

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Pangolin Stevie is looking for his food, as part of his rehabilitation in South Africa.

Photo: AFP / VNA / CVN

The temperature in the room is cool, like in a den. At this veterinary hospital on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the vital signs of Lumbi, a pangolin, are closely monitored as he drinks a protein cocktail from a syringe and receives his daily dose of medication.

Like many of its congeners, it is treated in this establishment specializing in the protection of native species, after being rescued from traffickers during a police operation. The address is kept secret, to prevent a possible attack by poachers.

“It’s like an intensive care unit for pangolins” who escaped the worst but are often in poor condition, says Nicci Wright, one of the vets. Illegally held captive for weeks in sacks, traveling in car bags, often not receiving water or food.

Pangolins are among the first victims of animal trafficking in South Africa, but also in neighboring countries such as Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Appreciated for its keratin scales, the same material as human nails, they are sold in Asia for supposed medicinal properties.

Oral medicine for a pangolin, in a secret laboratory in South Africa.

Photo: AFP / VNA / CVN

Pangolins that live in the wild only in Asia and Africa are classified as vulnerable or endangered species. The exact number of copies worldwide is unknown.

Here, they are cared for for a few weeks or several months, before being released. Veterinarians sometimes have to experiment with treatments for this species, which is about 80 million years old on Earth, but of which little is known medically.

“They are very different from other animals”informs the Dr. Wright, who has worked with pangolins for fifteen years. “Veterinary medicine and the rehabilitation process are not well documented and very little is known about the African species.”she adds.

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Very often, the treatments used to treat other mammals such as cats and dogs work well. Sometimes you have to take risks. “It’s a bet every time”recognizes Kelsey Skinner, giving a dose of drugs to Lumbi.

A specialist in pangolins, the 30-year-old veterinarian discovered that, like humans, these nocturnal and solitary insect eaters have different “personalities.” “Some people are shy and don’t want to be touched. Others are extroverted and play a lot of mud. They’re comedians. she says. Everyone is completely unique “.

Last month, a Lumbi teammate, another pangolin named Steve, was released after a full recovery. For seven months, Gareth Thomas, a volunteer, took him on a weekly walk in the wilderness to prepare him for freedom. “I’ve been with him since day one. I was there when he was taken out of the box where the poachers had locked him up.”he says during one of the last prep walks.

Steve was finally released six hours away from the Manyoni Nature Reserve. A new playground of approximately 23,000 ha for the animal, in the south of the province of KwaZulu-Natal (east).

His suitcase opened and equipped with an electronic device that allowed him to be tracked, Steve came out first cautiously. Sniffing around him, he then decided to go looking for ants for his afternoon misery.

“He now has all the skills he needs to survive in nature”Donald Davies of the Zululand Conservation Trust, which oversaw the release of the animal, rejoiced.

The process is crucial for the survival of the species. “We have to be absolutely sure that they find the right food and lairs. Otherwise, they will just die.”concludes M.jo Wright.

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