The Temmick's Ground Pangolin
A peculiar and rather mysterious looking animal, the Temmick's Ground Pangolin is the most hunted and traded animal on the planet. Photo: Christian Boix

The Temminck’s Ground Pangolin is the most widespread African pangolin species, recorded from south-eastern Chad, through South Sudan, much of East Africa and southern Africa as far south as the Northern Cape and North West provinces of South Africa and northeast KwaZulu-Natal. They do however, hold other records as well, including being the most poached and illegally trafficked animal species on the planet making them the not-so-proud title holders of the most endangered species in the world.

Conservative estimates say that 10 000 pangolins are trafficked every year. Annamiticus, an advocacy group, says if you assume only 10% to 20% of the actual trade is reported by the news media, the true number trafficked between 2011 and 2013 was between 116 990 and 233 980. A CNN article on the issue reported that in August 2013, nearly 7 tonnes of pangolins from Indonesia were seized at a port in Haiphong, Vietnam. In 2008, almost 14 tonnes of pangolins were seized in Sumatra, likely bound for Vietnam or China. This problem is not only an Asian one. In 2014 more than 6 tonnes of African pangolin scales were seized before export to Asia. The numbers have almost doubled in 2019.

So, why don’t the media report on the pangolin trade as extensively as is expected? Quite simply because we do not wish to create a market for the extermination of this precious animal. The entire trade is based on hocus pocus and reporting on black market prices and rewards offered to local poachers by ruthless Asian traders, will only fuel the trade, as it has for rhino horn.

So, the irony lies in that the scales meant to protect the pangolin is in fact leading to its demise. All because of ridiculous archaic beliefs such as eating its meat is considered a status symbol and that eating the scales can treat issues with lactation, blood circulation and (most ridiculously) cure cancer. And carrying a pangolin tongue in your pocket is supposedly considered good luck. Of course, this all absolute garbage with absolutely no scientific or medical basis to support it (pangolin scales are basically overgrown fingernails or toenails, so you would logically then be able to attain the same “benefits” from your own toenail clippings), but it does not help the pangolin’s plight.

Three individuals from Tzaneen, however, are fighting back. The Umoya Khulua Wildlife Center was established in 2017 by Adriaan, Wynand and Emma de Jager. Between them, they hold over 45 years of experience and have managed to save and release 100’s of animals.

“At our center, we have facilities to rehabilitate animals that are brought to us. Some animals are brought to us for medical attention, some are confiscated from illegal trade and some were household pets. We also have a clinic on site for small procedures and hold a TOPS permit allowing us to help endangered species. We take in over 60 different species of animals,” explained Emma de Jager. “We have now taken on the daunting task of trying to save the amazing pangolin.”

Bulletin travelled to Umoya Khulua on Tuesday evening and witnessed some of the amazing work they have done with a pair of hippos and some other smaller critters. Departing from Umoya to an undisclosed location roughly an hour’s drive South-West of the center, we met a female pangolin which the team have rehabilitated. She is highly pregnant and in the process of making a full recovery. Caring for her takes a lot of time and patience as little scaley creature eats approximately 50 000 ants per day and walking her through bush can be arduous. Thankfully, she has an armed ranger accompanying her on her daily lunch date.

“Once the pangolins are confiscated from the illegal trade, we have to work fast and get them to a trained veterinarian. Some pangolins have been in illegal captivity for weeks and are in the most horrific condition and very compromised. Pangolins only eat ants and termites and will not eat and captivity, they are usually emaciated and very dehydrated,” said Wynand. “Poachers catch them in snares regularly.  Some have terrible wounds from the wire snares. Poachers sometimes try and disguise the pangolins odor when travelling with them, to not get caught. There have been cases were pangolins have been covered with petrol or oil. As you can imagine this is extremely bad for their health.”

Emma de Jager, co-owner and founder of Umoya Khulula Wildlife Center. Photo: Roelof de Jonge

Umoya Khulua have started a campaign to fight the illegal traders and save the pangolin. There are many ways that all of us can get involved including three options in this particular campaign which are “Adopt a Pangolin”, Sponsor a tracking device” or “Donate”. You can get involved in this initiative by contacting the team on +27 083 272 3220 or via email on to have the entire presentation and options sent to your mailbox.

“The amount of pangolins that have been lost to the illegal trade is monumental. Humans are responsible for their peril, so we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to save these magnificent animals,” Emma de Jager.