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by Jessica Babich


If anybody wished you “Happy Pangolin Day” on 18 February 2012, your initial reaction would most probably have been, “What on earth is a pangolin?”.

Or perhaps not…

Maybe you are some of the lucky few, who have had the privilege of seeing this remarkable little mammal in the wild.

Pangolin by Lapalala Wilderness/Wild Revolution

Photograph by Lapalala Wilderness/Wild Revolution

 

Seldom seen, this elusive scaly mammal patrols the African landscapes under the cover of night - many people do not even know it exists.

But not for long.

There are plans afoot to change awareness surrounding this special animal on a global scale, as well as conduct research on this mammal across the African continent.

Photograph by Lapalala Wilderness/Wild Revolution


In June 2011, Lapalala Wilderness was the venue for the first ever African Pangolin Working Group (APWG) meeting, a newly founded initiative based on the gap of knowledge currently surrounding these rare and endangered animals.  The APWG is now also affiliated with the IUCN.

The APWG is team that consists of academics, researchers, filmmakers, conservationists and wildlife rehabilitators, each of whom bring a particular set of expertise to the initiative.

The APWG seeks to research, rehabilitate and collect genetic data of pangolins across Southern Africa and other African countries – while educating communities about its conservation and learning more about the cultural significance of the animal.

APWG chairman, Prof Ray Jansen (Head of the Department of the Environment, Water and Earth Sciences at Tshwane University of Technology), explains further, “The idea was born a few months ago, where interested parties got together looking at a particular species where we know very little about.”

A common concern for this intriguing animal brought the group together to map a way forward in conserving this vulnerable species.

Past studies in the Lowveld area and current studies by Darren Pietersen in the Kalahari have given great insight into the baseline ecology for the species.

Ray explains further, “But we don’t know what’s going on in the central population – for example, the Waterberg.  The different feeding ecology, the different prey, termites and ants available – it’s all very new to us.”

“And important in terms of finding genetic differences between sub-populations where they are isolated in islands of habitat.”

The pangolin is seriously threatened by illegal poaching and trade, electric fencing on game farms, poisons and gin traps.

Through the African Pangolin Working Group’s joint expertise, there will now be an opportunity to better understand this enigmatic little animal as a species -- and to help minimize the threats that it currently faces.

“We know little about their ecology, their distribution, population status in Southern Africa and in Africa in general, and we developed this Working Group to determine if there is a problem and a plight for the species.”

In the months to come, it is hoped that through new research, more will be revealed about the status of these incredible little mammals and how they can be helped.

Anyone can participate and contribute information about these amazing animals.

If you have seen a pangolin, no matter how recent or long ago, please log onto the African Pangolin Working Group website at www.pangolin.org to share the sighting information.

The site will give more details about this group, their activities and how your contribution can help pangolins in Africa.