There are eight pangolin species worldwide and of these, four of those pangolin species occur on the African continent, and are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The other four species are found on the Asian continent, all of which are either classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Namibia is home to the Temminck’s ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), one of the endangered species.
Although little is known about the behaviours and habitats of this scaly, shy mammal, pangolins are believed to be the most trafficked mammal in the world, with the biggest market and demand is the Asian market, especially China. Pangolins are mainly trafficked to China for their scales and meat. Their scales, which are made of keratin, (similar to that of the finger nails), are believed to have healing powers in traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat, which is seen as a delicacy, is said to have nutritional value to aid kidney function. All these are false beliefs that cause huge environmental damage, thus, threatening the survival of these special, innocent and gentle mammals.
Additionally, pangolins are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, electric fencing, road mortalities, by-catch in gin traps, and climate change. However, those are just the few that researchers are aware of, but there are many other anthropogenic threats which need to be researched further.
The Temminck’s ground Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii)
In Namibia, the Temminck’s ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), occurs across much of the country (excluding the extremely arid west and south) and is increasingly targeted by poachers, yet, its status and ecological requirements are poorly understood.
The protection and conservation of pangolins in Namibia is thus a complex and urgent business that requires linked-up collaborations from many organisations. These range from rural communities and farmers to law enforcement agencies, informers, nature conservation officials, veterinarians, rehabilitation facilities, researchers, non-governmental conservation organisations and donors.
The Pangolin Heroine
Kelsey Prediger is the founder and director of Pangolin Conservation and Research Foundation (PCRF) in Namibia, but originally, she hails from Paw Paw, Michigan in the USA. In 2016, Prediger came to Namibia to be a manager at a carnivore rehabilitation centre in southern Namibia.
Prediger completed her BSC in Zoology and Environmental Biology at the Michigan State University, and is currently completing her MSc in Natural Resource Management at the Namibia University of Science & Technology (NUST), focusing on the ecology of the Temminck’s ground pangolin.
More about the Pangolin Conservation & Research Foundation (PCRF)
In October 2020, Prediger founded the Pangolin Conservation and Research Foundation (PCRF) with a mission to ensure a sustainable future for the pangolins through conservation, research, awareness and education, collaboration, and local empowerment in Southern Africa.
PCRF’s goal is to improve conservation through understanding the home range sizes, activity patterns, population dynamics, prey preference, and overall ecology of pangolin in priority habitat sites. Amongst others, some of the foundation’s objectives are to, support conservation and protection of pangolin and their habitats across the African continent.
As such, there needs to be awareness raised, both locally and internationally, about the plight of the pangolin and their value within the ecosystem. We also need to plan and implement research projects structured to inform best practises, legislation and promote projects which reduce the trade and trafficking of pangolins. Furthermore, developing appropriate techniques for monitoring resident and released pangolin in different habitats would be ideal as it would help to optimize their survival.
The biggest challenge however lies with education, as such, we need to educate the public, conservation agencies and scientific community through popular science publications and articles in peer-reviewed journals. This will be beneficial because it would steer the route for a platform to engage with policy and law makers to promote the conservation of pangolins and their habitat and engage governments to promote the development, adoption and ratification of regional and international agreements, conventions or treaties that are in support of pangolin conservation and the elimination of illegal trade and trafficking in and from Africa.
Pangolin Protection in Namibia
According Prediger the Namibian government has put in place laws and policies driven towards the protection, welfare and security of the pangolin species. The government treats the pangolins as specially protected game under the Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1975. Here, the legislature prohibits the hunting and possession of these protected species at all.
Furthermore, the Controlled Wildlife Products and Trade Act of 2008, as amended and its regulations also addresses possession, trade (domestic or international), and acquisition of any controlled wildlife products, states that a person who has contravened the Act would be fined up to N$ 15 000 000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 15 years or both. Additionally, the offender is liable to a fine not exceeding N$ 25 000 000 or imprisoned for a period not exceeding 25 years or both.
Prediger further stated that the Namibian Pangolin Working Group which was established in April 2020 comprises of NARREC, Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism (MEFT) (as the chair), the Namibian Chamber of Environment (NCE), the Namibia University of Science and Technology’s Biodiversity Research Centre (NUST-BRC), the Rooikat Trust, and PCRF. The multi-disciplinary group is guiding much-needed research on the Temminck’s ground pangolin, providing training for first responders on how to handle confiscated pangolins.
Pangolin Monitoring & Research in Namibia
Previously, radio transmitters were attached to resident or released pangolins, but this requires a lot of time and effort because a researcher must get close enough to find the pangolin each time a location point is required. This means that we don’t know where pangolins are when they are not actively sought out, and if a released pangolin goes too far from the research base, we may lose track of it altogether.
One solution to this problem is to utilize satellite tracking devices that are programmed to take hourly GPS points during the pangolin’s most active period (16:00 to 02:00), when they are likely to be outside the burrow and thus visible to satellites. The device uploads the data on a regular basis, so we can connect to the satellite via the internet and download all the movement information to our computer. This is a great method of non-invasive monitoring over the long-term and we can still locate individuals should we see any concerning movement data or for welfare check-ups.
Due to their small size and nocturnal habits, advanced satellite technology for pangolins is limited by battery size. After two years of planning and preparation, one of these devices was attached to a female pangolin who was rescued from traffickers and released in July 2020. Data collected over the past year reveals that she has established a home range similar to that of resident pangolins have been studied in other areas. This means that she found suitable burrows and foraging sites in the release area and has settled down. The end goal is to find her with a pup of her own, the best sign of successful reintegration into a wild population.
It is a great honour to have the opportunity to spread awareness on the plight of the pangolin.
I hope that you now have a new interest in pangolins, for more information on the work of PCRF please follow us on Instagram and Facebook: @pangolincrf and you can now also sign up for our newsletter at https://www.pangolincrf.org/ to learn more about what you can do to help save pangolins.
By Selma Amadhila