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Members can contribute to Pangolin research and conservation

Introduction

In February we celebrated World Pangolin Day; a day dedicated to spreading awareness around the plight of the pangolin. There are currently eight species of pangolins remaining in the world, four of which occur across Asia and four within Africa. Temminck’s pangolin is documented as the most widespread species of pangolin to occur in Africa, with a range spreading from Chad and Sudan in the North to South Africa in the South. This is also the only species of pangolin to occur in Southern Africa. Even though few people know about the existence of pangolins, it is unfortunate that these unique mammals are still recognised as the most illegally traded mammals in the world.

The Illegal Wildlife Trade

Even with its wide distribution, as with all other pangolin species, Temminck’s pangolin is still under threat due to the high demand for pangolin products internationally, and the illegal wildlife trade that supplies this ever-increasing demand. The Temminck’s pangolin is listed as “vulnerable” under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species, with a declining population trend. Furthermore, Temminck’s pangolin is classified as an “Appendix I” list species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits international or commercial trade. In South Africa, Temminck’s pangolin is nationally protected by the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, Act 10 of 2004 (with 2013 revisions), and listed as a Threatened or Protected Species (ToPS).

Despite having current laws in place, the pangolin trade in South Africa is alive and well. The number of pangolins recovered from poachers remains high each year, with 2023 currently holding the record of at least 51 documented cases where pangolins were successfully recovered from the trade (Figure 1). It is important to note that these numbers only represent the cases where trade attempts have been intercepted and where successful confiscations took place. There are still many instances that go unnoticed, and a lot needs to be done to more effectively combat these criminal activities.

Number of pangolins recovered from the illegal wildlife trade in South Africa (data provided by Prof Ray Jansen, unpublished data).

Luckily, in collaboration with law enforcement and relevant authorities, some devoted individuals help rescue these special animals from the illegal wildlife trade and release them back into the wild.

Habitat fragmentation and restrictions

Unfortunately, the illegal trade is not the only threat pangolins face. As with many other species, habitat fragmentation and destruction is also of great concern. Pangolins can move vast distances to find food, and mates, or to establish new territories, but unfortunately, anthropogenic activity often hinders their natural behaviour. Low-lying electric fence lines are a good example of this, as these also cause a significant amount of pangolin mortalities each year..

Finding solutions to these types of problems can prove challenging but through applied research and proper collaboration, new solutions can be achieved!

A pangolin traversing a koppie (rocky outcrop) as the sun starts to set. Photo by: Francois Meyer

Pangolins and SA Hunters

Francois Meyer, a member of SAHGCA and conservation coordinator of the Hardekool branch, is actively involved in pangolin conservation efforts as well as researching pangolin behaviour and their ecology. Mr Meyer specialises in the release and post-release monitoring of pangolins that have been confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade, where his work contributes directly to the development of current release protocols and standards.

Francois Meyer and Jan Krijt (chairman of the Hardekool branch) releasing a pangolin female back into the wild.

What can you do?

Report information

Members can use our app to report pangolin sighting information in the wild. This information contributes to research regarding pangolin distribution, which in turn aids in the future selection of release locations and potential research sites. If the SAHGCA app is not an option, then sighting information can also be reported using the contact details provided at the end of this article.

Community involvement has proven to make a significant difference in the success of confiscation operations. Any information regarding the illegal possession or trade of pangolins can also be reported to the contact details provided below. All received information is regarded as highly confidential and will only be reported to the relevant authorities who lead recovery operations. Our goal is to facilitate the flow of information and ensure that it reaches the correct task forces.

 

Become a SAHGCA Wildlife Custodian

As part of our Custodian programme, SAHGCA aims to build partnerships with landowners to conserve identified endangered species and their habitats. These programmes further aim to raise awareness about species conservation and the importance of habitat preservation and restoration. SAHGCA will provide custodian members with relevant guidance on pangolin conservation and the practices they can implement towards creating a safer environment for pangolins.

An inquisitive pangolin pup peeking out from behind the safety of his mother’s tail. Photo by: Francois Meyer

Become a release or research site

Landowners interested in becoming approved release/research locations for pangolins may contact Francois Meyer using the details provided below. As a specialist, Mr. Meyer often consults and assists with the selection of new release locations and training of monitoring teams. He can guide interested reserves through all requirements and relevant procedures.

 

Look out for news updates

All future updates regarding pangolin conservation initiatives will be posted on our news updates and social media. This includes updates regarding the custodian programme, as well as educational talks and presentations that members can attend.

Our heritage

Pangolins truly are unique, not only in their appearance and nature but also in their presence. These special animals are part of South Africa’s heritage, and they are often regarded as important or holy in several cultures. They are a part of our history and a part of our story. We are not only losing them in their numbers but also our cultures. As custodians of the bushveld let us help raise awareness for pangolins and remind the world that these animals also deserve a space to belong.

Contact details:

Francois Meyer e-mail: kudumeyer@gmail.com

Lizanne Nel e-mail: lizanne@sahunt.co.za

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