As the rest of the world was eagerly closing the chapter that was 2020, our conservation team at &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa was quietly celebrating a groundbreaking wildlife victory that deserves special mention.
Since feel-good stories are few and far between these days, may this exciting news, and ensuing list, spread some much-needed joy amongst pangolin lovers.
A conservation first
First, a bit of background. Typically, the imperilled pangolin is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Officially declared the most illegally trafficked mammal on earth, this gentle and elusive species is in grave danger and teeters, devastatingly, on the brink of extinction.
Global extinction is irreversible; however, the good news is that local extinctions still have a chance. There are eight different species of pangolin, four Asian and four African, all fighting for survival. In South Africa, the Temminck’s ground pangolin once roamed freely in the KwaZulu-Natal province (where &Beyond Phinda is situated), but for the past few decades, the species has become locally extinct.
This prompted Phinda to join forces in 2019 with the African Pangolin Working Group (APWG) and Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital (JWVH) to launch a groundbreaking rehabilitation and reintroduction programme aimed at reversing the local extinction.
This project is the first of its kind for pangolins, both in Africa and globally. Pangolins that are confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade are then carefully rehabilitated and reintroduced safely onto Phinda, where they are continually monitored and protected.
The aim is to re-establish a new, healthy and thriving population of Temminck’s ground pangolin on Phinda, thus providing a breeding nucleus from which to create further metapopulations in other areas and give this vulnerable species a fighting chance at survival.
Cue the 2020 feel-good story…
Another conservation first
In the final days of 2020, the Phinda conservation team made the jaw-dropping discovery they had all been waiting (and praying) for. A discrete and unobtrusive camera trap (with covert back flash so as not to disturb the pangolins) hidden in the wall of an underground burrow produced the first highly anticipated photographic proof of the historic first pangolin pup born on Phinda.
The success of reversing a local extinction is measured by how well the new population does in its new environment. This female pangolin was already pregnant upon translocation; however, despite the stress of rehabilitation and translocation, she managed to settle comfortably and carry her pup to full term. This is a remarkable conservation coup for the project, and yet another conservation first on Phinda.
These are the only images of Phinda’s new addition. Once the birth was confirmed, the conservation team deactivated the camera trap in order to give the duo absolute privacy until the pup is old enough to emerge from the burrow with its mother.