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18 January, 2024
| Royal Malewane

Nicolas’s New Beginning: Rescuing a Pangolin in Peril

Written by: The Royal Portfolio Foundation
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You’ll never guess who we met in the street…

The Temminck’s pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) is the only species of pangolin found in southern and eastern Africa. It’s listed as vulnerable, and its numbers are believed to be declining rapidly due to illegal trafficking. Their normal habitat is savannah and woodland – including the Greater Kruger area around Royal Malewane.

Pangolins are one of the last creatures you might expect to encounter in Kempton Park, a city in the East Rand of South Africa and the site of O.R. Tambo International Airport – yet that’s exactly what happened to some residents there in mid-December 2023. It’s not recorded who was more surprised – the people or the pangolin – but this highly unlikely chance encounter set in motion both a rescue mission and some serious detective work. It also led to the pangolin – a sub-adult male subsequently named Nicolas – being sponsored by The Royal Portfolio Foundation.

Nicholas on a daily foraging walk

Nicholas on a daily foraging walk

Did you know – top six pangolin facts:

  1. The name pangolin comes from the Malay word for ‘roller’ – pangolins roll up into a ball when they feel threatened.
  2. There are eight species of pangolin in the world, of which four are found in Africa and four in Asia.
  3. A pangolin’s sticky tongue can be as long as its body (minus its tail).
  4. One pangolin can eat up to 70 million ants in a year!
  5. Pangolins move on all fours, or on their hind legs using their tails for balance.
  6. An estimated one million pangolins have been taken from the wild over the last decade.

Immediate Rescue and Meticulous Veterinary Care

Upon discovering Nicolas, the alert residents contacted the local wildlife centre, SAWRC. Nicolas was promptly rescued and taken to a local veterinary centre, where the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital’s specialist vets assessed his condition and began a comprehensive care regimen. Despite being physically unharmed from his escape from potential poachers, Nicolas was battling the aftereffects of severe dehydration and emaciation. The veterinary team’s swift and careful intervention, including crucial IV drip administration, marked the beginning of what is anticipated to be an extended rehabilitation journey for Nicolas in one of South Africa’s protected national parks

Left: Nicholas asleep, right: Nicolas’s ventral side

Ongoing Rehabilitation and the Path Forward

Under the vigilant care of Dr. Debbie English and her team at Provet Animal Hospital, Nicolas is gradually regaining his strength through daily foraging walks and a meticulously planned diet, indicating the painstaking and gradual process of rehabilitation. Nicolas’s recovery is a testament to the commitment and expertise of the veterinary team and conservationists involved in his care.

As Nicolas continues his journey back to health, The Royal Portfolio Foundation is dedicated to sharing regular updates on his progress. This story of resilience and care is just the beginning. As we learn more about Nicolas and the unique challenges faced by pangolins, we aim to share these insights and stories through ongoing blog posts. This narrative not only sheds light on Nicolas’s recovery but also serves as an educational journey, highlighting the importance of conservation efforts and the collective action required to protect these vulnerable species from the brink of extinction.

A Remarkable Recovery and Return to the Wild

Nicolas’s resilience shone through as he gradually regained his strength through daily foraging walks and a carefully curated diet. His recovery, faster and more robust than initially anticipated, is a testament to the unwavering commitment and expertise of the conservationists and veterinary team involved in his care. Nicolas has been returned to the wild where are certain he will continue to thrive.

Nicholas on a daily foraging walk

A Continued Commitment to Pangolin Conservation

In an alarming twist to Nicolas’s story, it’s believed that this fortunate pangolin had narrowly escaped the clutches of poachers. It’s a harrowing reminder of the dark reality these innocent creatures face, being highly sought after for their scales in illegal wildlife trade markets. Had Nicolas not been spotted and rescued by vigilant locals, his fate could have been grim – sold into the illegal trade or worse. This sobering thought underscores the importance of vigilance and rapid response in the fight against poaching, and it makes Nicolas’s successful rehabilitation and return to the wild all the more triumphant.

The Royal Portfolio Foundation is dedicated to using this inspiring narrative to highlight the importance of conservation and the need for collective action to safeguard these vulnerable creatures.

**All pangolins are housed and treated off-site at undisclosed secure locations for their safety and the safety of the team**

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