CAPE TOWN, South Africa—On World Pangolin Day 2023, animal protection organization Humane Society International/Africa celebrates a powerful collaboration with the African Pangolin Working Group and the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital to retrieve, rehabilitate and release vulnerable Temminck’s pangolins back into the wild. One of the many success stories is that of Cory, a lucky pangolin who was rescued from poachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now released back in the wild after rehabilitation, a camera trap has revealed that Cory has given birth to a pango-pup, who has been filmed clinging to her back.
Pangolins are the world’s only scaled mammals. They are ruthlessly poached for these scales— mistakenly believed to have curative properties in traditional Asian medicine—as well as for meat, which is eaten as a delicacy in some Asian countries. They are incredibly vulnerable and submissive creatures with no teeth who are unable to defend themselves or run away from danger. Their only means of defense is to curl into a ball, which ironically makes them even more vulnerable to poachers who can easily pick them up. The number of pangolins left in the wild is unknown as they are very difficult to spot, but all species of pangolin are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. In 2019, 97 tons of African pangolin scales were trafficked from Africa, which equates to roughly 160,000 individual pangolins.
Dr. Audrey Delsink, wildlife director for Humane Society International/Africa, said: “Pangolins are officially the world’s most trafficked mammal. This is devastating for a species whose cryptic status means that little is known about how many actually exist in the wild. Every pangolin saved from the trade and successfully reintroduced back into the wild is a conservation success. The birth of this pango-pup signifies hope that with better enforcement of laws prohibiting pangolin trafficking and continued work on rehabilitating and protecting these iconic animals, we can halt the rapid decline in pangolin populations. HSI/Africa is proud to support the African Pangolin Working Group and the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital and applaud all those who work tirelessly to save this remarkably unique species from extinction.”
Cory the pangolin was one of several of her species retrieved from a crime intelligence-led sting operation in Johannesburg during the pandemic. Law enforcement officials discovered Cory concealed in a zipped sports bag and in very poor condition as she had been held captive for approximately 10 days without food or water, and surely experienced extreme psychological stress during this time.
Cory was treated at the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital where she was initially weighed in at an underweight 4.9 kilograms. Although Cory’s condition was poor, she seemed to be free of any physical injuries and was deemed likely to recover fairly easily.
After a month of rehabilitation, Cory was transported to Manyoni Private Game Reserve for an initial ‘soft’ release. Cory still needed to gain weight to reach 6.5 kilograms before she could safely be released back into the wild, so she was fitted with two telemetry tags for monitoring—a VHF (very high frequency) and a satellite device generously sponsored by The Boucher Legacy— attached painlessly to one of her scales.
Cory was eventually released in 2020 in Manyoni Private Game Reserve in Zululand where she and another tagged pangolin were observed using the satellite data and a camera trap the specialist Manyoni team placed in front of Cory’s burrow. There was tremendous excitement in July 2022 when the camera trap revealed a surprise: a pup holding on to Cory’s tail as she exited the burrow! This week, merely days before World Pangolin Day, Cory and her pup were spotted inside her burrow and both mum and pup are thriving in their natural habitat. This birth has signaled the overall success of the program to retrieve, rehabilitate and reintroduce Temminck’s pangolin back into KwaZulu Natal’s wilderness where they had been locally extinct for around four decades.
Four traffickers were arrested by the South African Police Service Cullinan Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit for the poaching of Cory. One of the perpetrators was found guilty and sentenced to three years’ jail time or a R10,000 fine.
Note: All pangolins who are treated at the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital are kept off-site for safety and security.
- There are eight species of pangolin in the world: four Asian species and four African species.
- Of the four Asian species of pangolin, the Sunda, the Chinese, and the Philippine are now listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, while the Indian pangolin is listed as endangered.
- Of the four African species, the white-bellied and the giant ground pangolin are listed as endangered, while the Temminck’s and the black-bellied are listed as vulnerable.
- An estimated one million pangolins were trafficked globally over the past decade.
- Europe has become a key transit route for pangolin parts from Africa to Asia, and pangolin parts are also illegally trafficked from Asia to the United States.
Photos of Cory and her pup are available here.
Media contact: Leozette Roode, media specialist for Humane Society International/Africa, LRoode@hsi.org, +27 71 360 1104.