An African pangolin who was rescued from traffickers has been released back into the wild in Africa after being encouraged to use her ant hunting instincts during rehabilitation.
Casino, named after the car park where she was found during a police sting operation in South Africa, was so weak when she was rescued that she would have been unable to sustain herself in her natural habitat.
Pangolins are the most trafficked mammals in the world accounting for around 20 per cent of the illegal global wildlife trade. All eight subspecies are threatened with extinction, scientists say, and when pangolins disappear so will the ecological balance in their natural habitats.
The gentle creatures are captured and sold on the black market to be trafficked to the Far East where their scales, which are like Rhino horn, are falsely believed to possess medicinal properties.
Casino was taken to the Kalahari Wildlife Project close to the site of her rescue, but due to her poor condition she had to receive extensive rehabilitation.
In the wild, pangolins use their long tongues to bury down into ants and termite nests to feed on the tiny insects. But due to her traumatic experience, Casino needed to spend three months regaining weight and strength before she could be released again.
Once she had received treatment and recovered enough to regain her strength, she was taken out by expert trackers John Kuipers and Mohammed Witbooi earlier this month from the San community – or Bushmen who are part of an indigenous hunter-gatherer culture that was one of the first in Southern Africa. Only they have the skills and instincts needed to nurture the pangolin while keeping track of it. Their salaries are paid for by the Kalahari Wildlife Project.
The pair patiently helped her to find her feet, and every night for six weeks they walked Casino through the African Bushveld as she searched for ant and termite nests to feed from. The project believes that it is better to help the pangolins learn to forage for themselves with gentle exposure to the wild, rather than constant feeding by hand which may affect their long-term chances of survival.
The project is able to focus more on caring for pangolins thanks to supporters of a unique photographic competition – the Pangolin Photo Challenge – around the world. Pangolin Photo Safaris, which leads tours for photographers at locations across the continent, is dedicated to the conservation of their namesake, and all entry fees from their global photographic competition goes towards buying supplies and equipment for the project’s pangolin rehabilitation centre.
‘The pangolin is one of the world’s most beautiful and misunderstood creatures, and we are committed to their conservation,’ Toby Jermyn, who co-owns Pangolin Photo Safaris, told The Ethicalist. ‘Everyone who enters the competition is asked to donate a much-needed item to the Kalahari Wildlife Project, which will go directly to supporting the rescue and rehabilitation of even more pangolins like Casino, because every pangolin saved is essential to the survival of this species.’
After her rehabilitation Casino was moved to a secure location, and fitted with satellite and VHF trackers before being released.
Toby, who is offering a photo safari worth £20,000 for the grand prize winner of the Pangolin Photo Challenge, said: ‘After Casino was released in the afternoon, we revisited her in the evening and saw that she was already eating from an ants’ nest. She was very relaxed and it was wonderful to see her doing what she was always supposed to, back in the wild.’
The poachers are awaiting trial in South Africa.
You can find out more about the Pangolin Photo Challenge 2022 here