Cory the pangolin has successfully been released as part of an iconic project which aims to reintroduce pangolins in KwaZulu-Natal, making her the first of her kind to roam the KZN hills in nearly 70 years.
Rescuers will be keeping a close eye on her as she finds her feet in her new home, and her release is especially significant considering pangolins have roamed the earth for over 80 million years.
The project, a world first, focuses on the endangered Temminck’s Ground Pangolin being brought back into Zululand.
Rehoming rescued Temminck’s Ground Pangolin is a collaborative effort between Manyoni Private Game Reserve, the African Pangolin Working Group (APWG), Humane Society International, the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital (JWVH), and funding from the Zululand Conservation Trust (ZCT).
“Reintroducing a species back into their historical range is bittersweet for me. It is great to be part of such an amazing conservation programme, but so sad that they became locally extinct in the first place,” said Manyoni Managing Director Karen Odendaal.
These pangolins were poached from the wild and rescued in SAPS and Green Scorpions sting operations.
Pangolin scales are made of hardened keratin, and like rhino horns, scales are highly sought after in the illegal wildlife trade.
These creatures are the most trafficked mammal in the world, and are withdrawn and sensitive. When poached from the wild, they often die due to stress, dehydration and starvation.
Their only defence mechanism is rolling up into a tight ball and lying very still, making them an easy target for poachers to catch and conceal. They do not have vocal chords.
Poaching syndicate survivors often end up at the JWVH, where they are cared for by a dedicated team. Once they are strong enough, they are taken to a suitable reserve where a soft release programme begins.
“Once an individual arrives on site, they undergo a multistage soft release process which is tailored for each animal and can last up to four months before the final release phase. Thereafter, they are monitored very closely using specialised satellite tracking devices to track their movements and locate them daily to check their weight, tick load, and general condition,” Odendaal explained.
Cory’s guardian angel is Zululand field manager for APWG, Leno Sierra.
During the soft release phase, Sierra took Cory into the reserve everyday for up to four hours, where she could forage and feed in a wild space. This was done until she weighed around 6.5kgs to be released.
The roughly two-year-old pangolin was released last week.
The project requires a hands-on approach to make sure the pangolins acclimatise, find the correct food, and gain weight.
ZCH project coordinator Frances Hannah enthused that Cory’s progress and the pangolin programme “is a historic moment”, and that this type of proactive conservation may well protect this extremely endangered species.
This project requires specialised equipment, including vehicles, tracking devices and armed guards. If you are able to assist the project, click here to find out more about what you can do to help bring pangolins back to KZN.