March 3, 2020 – A giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) that was seized from poachers in Northern Congo has been successfully rescued and returned to the wild by WCS staff and partners.

The photos included (see link above) show the pangolin in the basket used for transport during the rescue operation; rehydrating in the room at the WCS facility where it spent one night; and the animals as it is released into the wild.  

Pangolins are among the most commonly trafficked animals in the world and WCS has been working to protect the species through conservation science and international policy.

They are extremely sensitive and usually die when taken from the wild by poachers.

WCS staff in Congo were faced with an enormous task when they received a call that a giant pangolin had been seized by Congolese authorities. The animal required immediate attention if it were to survive. Thanks to the collaboration between teams from WCS’s Wildlife Health Program, the Tikki Hywood Foundation, and the Sangha Pangolin Project in Central African Republic the animal is safely roaming in the forests of the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park.

Said Emma Stokes, WCS Central Africa Regional Director: “I am proud that WCS were able to assist with this release. Pangolins are in trouble worldwide due to the illegal wildlife trade, so whenever live animals caught in the trade can be seized and quickly released into good habitat we will act to improve their chance of survival.”

Pangolins are insectivorous and nocturnal mammals that are highly susceptible to stress and generally do not survive in human care. They feed exclusively on termites and wild ants and dehydrate quickly often leading to a rapid death. The female recovered from the poacher had already been in his or her possession for two weeks making the situation even more dire.

Experts from the Tikki Hywood Foundation guided the WCS teams instructing the care givers to keep the animal hydrated and release it as soon as possible.

The female giant pangolin was a juvenile weighing nearly 40 pounds and measuring more than three-and-a-half feet in length. It was transported to the WCS Congo offices in the town of Ouesso, Republic of Congo in a plastic laundry basket. The animal was cleaned of debris caught in the scales and provided water in an empty room where it would be safe and allowed to recover from its stress.

Understanding that time was of the essence, the team transported the animal at first light. It was taken to the edge of the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, a protected area in the northern part of Republic of Congo, where Dr. Alain Ondzie, a wildlife veterinarian with the WCS Wildlife Health Program in Congo, was able to examine the animal. It was determined that other than a minor injury to its leg, the pangolin was in good health considering what was likely a traumatic couple of weeks. It was then released and allowed to walk into the forest.

Also known as the scaly anteater, pangolins are sought for their large scales made of keratin, the same substance as rhino horn and human fingernails. In Africa their scales are used in spiritual and cultural ritual; in Asia they are used in traditional medicines. Pangolins are also trafficked for food and are considered a delicacy in some cultures.

The giant pangolin is the largest of eight pangolin species and adults can weigh up to 75 pounds. They are native to Central Africa and classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Estimates indicate that more than a million animals were poached between 2004 and 2014. In 2016, the 186 countries party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the treaty that regulates the international wildlife trade, voted to ban the commercial trade in pangolins.

Read the full story of the rescue on the WCS Congo Blog.