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Scaling up on Pangolin Conservation

Scaling up on Pangolin Conservation, By Wendy Panaino, University of the Witwatersrand.

Few people have ever heard of a pangolin, and very few have seen one in the wild. As part of my MSc degree, I have been extremely fortunate to be able to track and observe ground pangolins (Smutsia temminckii) for the past year in the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, situated in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa.

Little is known about how pangolins might cope with the direct (heat) and indirect (prey availability) effects of a changing climate, so I am currently investigating the body temperature, diet and activity patterns of free-living ground pangolins in a semi-arid environment. Tswalu lies on the south-western edge of the species’ distribution range, a part of Africa that is predicted to become hotter and drier with climate change.

During my time following pangolins at Tswalu, I have had the enormous pleasure of witnessing many interesting behaviours exhibited by these extraordinary creatures. In September 2015, two female pangolins gave birth to a single pup each.

Since then, I have been able to observe the growth and development of the pangolin pups through the use of camera traps placed outside the burrow. On one occasion, a female pangolin brought her pup out of the burrow while I was conducting behavioural observations. This was one of the most magical experiences I have ever had. With pup on her back, the female pangolin came to investigate my presence, sticking her long, sticky tongue out to get a real sense of the foreign creature that was me.

After a few months, that pup left its mother to go on its own solo adventure to investigate the world.
My experiences throughout this study have been nothing short of phenomenal, and I hope that the results that come from it can ultimately contribute to the conservation efforts of ground pangolins.

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