Lisa Hywood of the Tikki Hywood Trust, who rescue Pangolins from captivity and poachers, shares a personal story of dealing with the horrific treatment of these unique animals.
THT050 – the tale of Phoenix…..
20 Aug 2015
Today the Tikki Hywood Trust received yet another Ground Pangolin – a trend that is on a terrifying rise in our Country and indeed worldwide. Although our process of receiving these innocent victims has become more streamlined and efficient (through unsolicited experience) nothing could have really prepared us for what we saw today.
The standard routine of being called by the authorities to collect the animal; get there with the proverbial boxes and blankets etc. and retrieve a terrified, dirty but seemingly “OK” pangolin was completely shattered by this latest arrival.
Lifting this little girl out of the rescue crate I could immediately tell that the poachers had tried to feed her raw maize meal. She had obviously rolled in it and generally speaking, due to confinement, the pangolins will also soil themselves with faeces and urine. This mixes with the maize meal to make a foul, sour smelling grey sludge all over the animal. But something was niggling in the back of my mind when I briefly scanned her for immediate problems whilst transferring her to the next transport box to get to the centre. The ends of her scales were strangely curled inwards and white/yellow in colour. I didn’t think too much about it, since young pangolins often have jagged and discoloured scale tips and depending on the kind of nutrition they have had their scale ends can form various shapes. It was only on closer inspection back at the centre that the true horror of what had happened to this animal dawned on us.
We started to gently rinse off the stinking sludge with a betadine solution and we began to comprehend what had happened – this poor creature had been burned. The curled scales with the yellowed edges now showed tell-tale traces of blackening and formed a belt across 40% of her body, along her back and hind quarters. That is a smell I will never forget – a mix of wood and hair burning – an appalling scent that now emanated from her after we got rid of the first layer of maize meal. Closer inspection under the burnt scales revealed that the skin and scales were in fact separating from her body – leaving angry red flesh underneath. Straight away we sought veterinary attention.
Will keep you posted on this one.
21 Aug 2015
As promised, here is an update on our special patient – the burnt pangolin.
The first few hours of arrival of a rescued pangolin can be the most nerve wracking. Terrified and tightly rolled, these gentle souls are extremely distrustful of us humans and rightly so! It’s a delicate balance to strike, as on the one hand, it is vitally important to assess any potential injury or illness, yet on the other hand, you have to give the animal every opportunity to rebuild a fragile trust.
Unfortunately with this little girl there was no time to give her a chance to uncurl and gently assess her surroundings, with the extent to which her scales were literally separating from her body. On the brief trip to the vet, with her gently wrapped in a towel, my mind was racing with a million thoughts. What happens when a pangolin loses major scales on their body, since they cannot grow back? Can the bare flesh underneath even cope with exposure? What pain she must be in, with every jarring bump in our pot-holed roads and how much infection there must be, festering in her bare flesh. With as tender a touch as possible we examine the bundle of charred scales, lifting in order to better see the damage and the more we look, the more desperate I am beginning to feel. My own skin is now burning in sympathy, but I can barely imagine the agony of what she is experiencing. Sedation is most definitely required, as we have not even seen her unprotected belly and I am dreading the first view of that.
Mercifully, upon closer inspection of the now sleeping patient, we can see that the burn has been limited to her groin area. Her torso and face has been spared. However several scales are hanging by gelatinous dead skin on the inside of her tail and they have to be removed. It is now also glaringly obvious that these injuries are already several days old. Finally cleaned, wounds treated as much as we were able to and sleeping now with the aid of a pain killer, we brought little girl home for a good rest in a safe and warm environment.
As clichéd as it may sound, we have called her Phoenix for now, since this mythical creature that rises from the ashes could not be a better namesake for such a brave little being.
More to follow.
Update: Phoenix lost her battle in the late hours of the night on 24th August. This innocent victim of the illegal wildlife trade did not deserve this torture. Her three poachers have been arrested and bail denied until they are to reappear in court early in September.
Contributed by Lisa Hywood at the Tikki Hywood Trust in Zimbabwe