REST- Protecting Namibia's Elusive Pangolins


The Rare and Endangered Species Trust is an organisation that operates in Central-Northern Namibia near the town of Otjiwarongo and the Okonkjima game reserve. REST was founded in 2000 by Maria Diekmann and has since gone from strength to strength. Originally Maria envisaged REST as playing a supporting role in the effort to conserve endangered species such as the Cape griffon vulture. As time went by, however, it became clear that REST would be better suited to playing a leading role in conservating severeal different endangered species from around Namibia.

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The entrance to REST.

The Forgotten 5

Presently REST is concerned with protecting the so-called “forgotten 5”. These endangered species represent a cross-section of the rich and fragile biodiversity of Namibia. These forgotten animals of Namibia are the African wild dog, the Damara dik-dik, the dwarf python, the Cape griffon vulture and the Cape pangolin.

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The African Wild Dog.
(photo courtesy of the NTB via Roderick MacLeod)

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The Damarra Dik-dik.
(Image courtesy of REST)

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The African Python.
(Image courtesy of REST)

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The Cape Griffon Vulture.
(Image courtesy of REST)

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The Cape Pangolin.
(Image courtesy of REST)

When we visited REST we were given a tour of the facilities and were shown the many species the trust helps to protect. Of particular interest to us was the the Cape pangolin. It is an illusive and little understood species of mammal that inhabits Namibia and is coming under increasing threat from poachers and black market pet dealers.

Problems facing Pangolins

Pangolin scales and pangolin meat are highly paid for commodities in several Southeast Asian countries. As a result of this the number of pangolins killed for either their scales or flesh is increasing every year. The pangolin is now the most frequently seized mammal in Asia's illegal wildlife trade. The majority of these pangolins are indigenous to Far-east and Southeast Asian countries but as the stocks dwindle in these regions poachers are beginning to look further afield.

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One of the many pangolins found dead and en route to a black market destination.
(Image courtesy of Global Nation)

Little is understood of Namibia’s cape pangolins and as a result they are difficult to track and monitor. Their behavior and numbers are largely unknown and it is thus difficult to ascertain exactly how many are being taken out of Namibia. Once the pangolin flesh and scales have made their way to the far-east their value sky-rockets. However, within Namibia the value of a Cape pangolin can be as little as 20 US$.

Unfortunately there is a misconception in Namibian communities that a pangolin is a golden ticket to riches in-excess of tens of thousands of dollars. In reality though the punishments for selling pangolins are massive and the payout is very low. Whenever the conservationists at REST get wind of a local trying to sell a Cape pangolin on the black market they will try to intervene and prevent the sale and will usually take posession of the pangolin.

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A baby Cape pangolin in Maria's hand.
His mother was rescued from black market traders.

(Photo courtest of Maria Diekmann)

How REST Helps

At the beginning of 2012 REST unexpectedly received a female Cape pangolin. The team at REST decided to release her into the wild but before they could do so she gave birth to a pangolin pup. The mother then made her way back into the bush leaving the pup behind. Motherless, this pup, affectionately called Baby Pang, now spends its time foraging around the surrounds of the REST grounds. It is currently being weaned off of human contact and is almost fully prepared for a re-entry into the wild.

So little is known of Cape pangolins and their habits that they need to be carefully monitored in unique situations like the one described above. One of the major successes at REST is their ability to care for pangolins. Usually, pangolins die when kept in captivity but at REST the gentle creatures flourish before being sent back into the wild. Baby Pang is one of two pangolins, world-wide, to survive after being born in captivity. Maria attributes this success to their methods. At REST the emphasis is always on limiting the stress an animal experiences thus increasing its chances of survival. The team at REST also makes every effort to keep these animals as close to their natural habitats as possible.

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During our visit we were allowed to walk with Baby Pang and watch how it forages
in its natural environment.

Zola the Pangolin

While visiting REST we were fortunate enough to observe the arrival of a new Cape pangolin that had been confiscated from black market pet dealers just outside a nearby town. This pangolin (now called Zola) was clearly distressed and disorientated in its new environment. As a result Devries (a game ranger on loan from the neighbouring Okonjima game reserve) and Maria wanted to get her back out into the wild as soon as possible.

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Maria wanted to limit her exposure to humans and thus increase her chances of re-intergrating back into the world of the Cape pangolins. Before this release could be effected a non-instrusive tracker needed to be attached to one of Zola’s scales and we were allowed to document this highly sensitive and rare procedure.

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It was touching to see the amount of genuine concern and care that was lavished upon this strange and beautiful creature. The radio transmitter was attached with a minimum of stress and Zola was taken inside Maria’s house to recuperate in preparation for her re-release into the wild. When we left REST the next day Zola was notably more relaxed and comfortable. It seemed a fitting end to an experience that was both hopeful and inspiring.

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When we left Zola was hanging out on an old wine barrel enjoying some afternoon sun.

How You Can Get Involved

The easiest way to help is by giving donations to REST either through websites like Rockethub or through REST’s website itself. Another great way to help out is to volunteer to work at REST. The three volunteers we spent time with: Simon, Thomas and Anna had only compliments and heartfelt commendations when asked about the program.

REST also offers day tours around its facilities and depending on what time of the day you arrive and how long you are willing to stay you may get a chance to see these curious little creatures. Limited accomodation is also available and must be booked in advance. Contact the REST team by email with any enquiries you might have.

In some parts of the world it may already be too late to save these gentle creatures but in Namibia we are uniquely positioned to lead the charge in the conservation and study of pangolins. The more we understand these animals the easier it will become to protect them from future dangers.

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As we were leaving Baby Pang decided Maria's head looked like a good place to perch.

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