I saw my first Pangolin at the age of 13, at a boarding school in Zimbabwe (which will remain nameless). In those days they fed us juniors nothing and on Sundays we were allowed out to “forage” in the bush. We used to trap and eat doves, ducks, hares and catch fish in the nearby river just to get through the next week. One day in a hole in a tree, we found a Pangolin. The most bizarre little animal. We played with it for a while in wonder and then let it go. Of course we didn’t realize how rare this creature would become…
Over the years as a tour leader in Africa I’ve seen very few. In Zimbabwe and Botswana I was lucky enough to spot these nocturnal critters and in Gabon – my first, and only, Giant pangolin. We were lucky enough to get within two feet of this huge, primitive beast. While everyone else was looking for gorillas, I was amazed by this gentle and bizarre beast in some of the densest forests on earth.
Then came Sangha Lodge, in the Central African Republic. I used to call this place “Dinosaur Land”, as the massive forest looked like it could easily be home to a Triceratops, or T-Rex. But maybe we should re-name it “Pangoland” for it is here I have seen the other two species of pangolin, and where they were relatively common. Rod Cassidy, the owner of the lodge, has become a major player in saving pangolin from the illegal wildlife trade. In his life he has brought up and released a few and rescued many, many more.
In my life I’ve been lucky enough to see all the species of African pangolin. But if we do not do something about the illegal trade in these animals, the next generation may not be so lucky. It’s amazing what the tall tales of a few traditional healers has done to a small, harmless, animal population. The idea that the pangolin can cure any ailment has thrown the species’ future into uncertainty and created a black market trade that threatens to cause the extinction of one of the world’s most stunning yet unknown animals. While we worry about the fate of rhino, pandas and the world’s large, well known endangered species, the most illegally traded animal on the planet has fallen into obscurity. A small, timid, harmless, insectivore – the pangolin.
Luckily there are those out there that won’t give up the fight that easily. The Tikki Hywood Trust is dedicated to protecting pangolins in Zimbabwe, our friend Rod Cassidy is working at his Sangha Lodge in the Central African Republic to rehabilitate pangolins for release back into the wild, and the Zoological Society of London has been working hard to protect all species of pangolin across the globe. Please do what you can to protect these amazing creatures by donating to any of these fantastic oragnisations. In Tanzania the government is using Giant Pouched Rats to sniff out pangolins at border crossings across the country and the US is set to trial their use too. Although it’s a slow start, hopefully with this increased oversight and conservation the pangolin populations can recover and our generation won’t be the last to see these beautiful animals in the wild.
If you want to come to Pangoland, and have a chance of seeing these animals – as well as gorillas, bongo, sitatunga, forest elephant – give us a call or email firstname.lastname@example.org to be part of one of our most exclusive scheduled departures.