The number one aim of a good wildlife centre is to practice good conservation first. We strongly feel that although research and education are key, conservation of a species must take priority. The threat of extinction makes all other aspects irrelevant.
Maria Diekmann Founder, Pangolins International
One of our primary tasks is to rescue pangolins in imminent danger of injury or death.
When we rescue an abandoned or orphaned pangolin pup, quickly establishing a bond with a human is absolutely vital for its survival. Right from the start, that human must have the main objective of preparing the pangolin for release back into the wild. Love, warmth and support are essential and natural, but always with the aim of replicating – as far as possible – the nurturing behaviours and teachings of a mother pangolin, in order to encourage natural instincts.
Pangolins are independent creatures, and have proved very difficult to raise in captivity. In fact it’s a challenge even for the most experienced of wildlife rehabilitators, which means that well informed and highly qualified individuals are the most likely to be successful. However, even for these experts, the end goal must always be to release the pangolin back into the wild. Here, the pangolin’s independent nature is a great boost as they do not seem to develop the intense problematic bonds that other wildlife can, where ‘imprinting’ results in an animal being reluctant to leave the human who cared for them. This means that once the animal is ready and the environment is safe, a pangolin can be released back into the wild with great success.
We have years of experience of rehabilitating sick and injured pangolins.
We’ve designed our new Emerald Forest Centre specifically for the special needs of rehabilitating pangolins.
In 2021 Maria worked with Saint Mark’s Wildlife Rescue Centre in Nigeria, and became the first person in the world to raise five orphaned pangolin pups at the same time. This groundbreaking work gave Maria unprecedented experience and the opportunity to monitor trends in reactions to formula, medication and care. The accelerated nature of this learning – as opposed to raising one pup at a time – led to the establishment of basic protocols for feeding, veterinarian care and general biological needs.
Rehabilitation methods are varied and include slowly introducing the pups to climbing. Eventually, they start spending the night in tree branches and ground material which is designed to simulate the habitat of the forest floor.
Just as human babies are weaned with time, so the young pangolins need to be gradually transferred over to their adult food source. The process of changing a pup’s diet from milk to ants and termites takes months. For the final few months, training takes place in the proposed release area in order to allow the pangolin youngsters to begin foraging for themselves and to begin establishing a territory. This time also gives the human partner the chance to determine whether the chosen area is suitable and not already occupied by another pangolin, which could lead to territorial disputes or competition for food resources.
We release rehabilitated pangolins back into their natural habitat when healthy.
In December 2021, five pangolin pups were released, each at a target release weight of 1-1.2kg. Sadly, only three of those were of the original five as two had previously died whilst Maria was recovering from Malaria. Two more had come to the centre since to make up the number.
Three of those five pups were fitted with VHF trackers before they were released. These were the only tracker units Maria felt were small enough not to compromise the welfare of the young pangolins once out in the wild. The pups were monitored, and all survived and thrived. It is hoped and assumed that the other two tracker-less pups also survived given they were all cared for under the same conditions and put through the same rehabilitation process in preparation for their release.
Pangolins International and the Emerald Forest plan to fit small tracking devices to every released pangolin in order to ensure their safety, and at the same time learn more about how to protect these fragile creatures.
We are still searching for the perfect small tracking device (satellite, cell or any other avenue for movement data collection), so please contact us if you'd like to help design one, or are aware of an existing suitable device.
Conservation of other species
Pangolins may now be the core focus of our work, but it’s vitally important to us that we continue to rescue other species as well. In Namibia – where we began in 2000 as REST (Rare and Endangered Species Trust) – our focus was across the "Forgotten Five" species which desperately needed world attention, funding and research, but failed to get it. As opposed to the efforts put into conserving the "Big Five", the cape vulture, dik dik, dwarf python and rubber frog – alongside the pangolin – went almost unnoticed.
At our new Emerald Forest Reserve centre, we will continue to care for other creatures if they need our help. Every life is important to us, and if we know of a better facility for an animal’s care, we will do everything we can to make a transfer so that the creature gets the best chance possible.