10 November 2020
A volunteer team in South Africa is rescuing pangolins from illegal traffickers as the animals face growing threats of extinction.
Although many of the pangolins arrive afraid and badly injured, they are the lucky ones. They have a good chance of survival thanks to a team of volunteers who take care of their wounds, feed them and bring them back to health.
Pangolins – which are about the size of a cat – are unusual creatures. They are the world's only mammals with scales. While they are sometimes called scaly anteaters, they are not related to true anteaters. But like those animals, their tongues can be very long.
Pangolins are not well known. Yet, they are among the most poached and illegally trafficked animals in the world. Experts warn that the creatures are nearing extinction because of high demand for their scales in traditional medicines in Asia.
The African Pangolin Working Group in Johannesburg is a volunteer team of veterinarians and wildlife experts. The group is carrying out the pangolin rescues. Nicci Wright heads the organization.
"When we receive those pangolins they are all compromised, whether they have been with the poachers for a few days or sometimes up to two weeks," Wright said. "They have got wounds, they have got injuries and it is very pitiful and very difficult to emotionally deal with that kind of suffering and abuse."
The animals are often caught in homemade traps and recently the group received a pangolin cut deeply through its middle by a trap - almost from stomach to back - Wright said.
Treatment for the animals often includes receiving fluids and food intravenously as part of a special diet. They are also given drugs at first to sleep for up to 48 hours. "Rest is the most important thing, next to the physical recovery," Wright said.
The pangolins are then moved to other areas so the wildlife hospital is not targeted by poachers.
The pangolin group's chairman, Professor Raymond Jansen, recorded 97 tons of pangolin scales seized from smugglers trying to take them out of Africa last year. This amounts to about 150,000 poached animals. Jansen estimates that is only about 20 percent of the total number because the rest escape with the poachers.
"If this trend continues and this demand is provided, then there is a very likely extinction event for all eight species of the pangolin," Jansen said.
The group is not just treating pangolins, it is also fighting back. It works with police to identify and catch poachers and traders, often in undercover operations. Last month, two men were arrested in a parking lot in Pretoria trying to sell a pangolin for $20,000.
The work brings an element of personal danger for Jansen. He sometimes poses as an illegal buyer and meets poachers before police move in to arrest them.
The group is also working on anti-trafficking measures. The latest program led by Jansen trains dogs to sniff out pangolins being hidden and transported.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
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Words in This Story
extinction – n. when a plant or animal completely dies out and disappears
scale – n. a thin, hard plate of material that covers the bodies of some animals
veterinarian – n. a person who is trained to give medical care to animals
compromise – v. damaged or weakened
pitiful – adj. deserving or causing a feeling of pity or sympathy
intravenous – adj. through or into the veins
trend – n. the general direction of change
pose – v. to pretend to be something that you are not