Plucky Pangolin clings to life after police foil black market deal

22 January 2018 - 15:03 By Jeff Wicks
Pangolin Maritz, who was rescued in a sting operation in mid-January, is recovering in Johannesburg.
Pangolin Maritz, who was rescued in a sting operation in mid-January, is recovering in Johannesburg.
Image: Supplied.

A plucky pangolin named Maritz is clinging to life after being trafficked in a journey spanning over a 1000 kilometres in a dusty backpack.

He was secretly ferried by taxi from where he had been snatched‚ somewhere in Zimbabwe‚ across an international border and to the parking lot of a mall in Pietermaritzburg‚ where he was rescued in a dramatic police sting on Tuesday.

It was in the parking lot that the 8.9kg adult male was due to be sold for R85 000 and lost forever to the illegal animal trade.

Syndicates running the trade in pangolins - the most trafficked mammals in the world - are driven by an insatiable demand for traditional medicine in Asia. The species is mainly found in Africa and Asia.

But now Maritz‚ named after the place he was rescued‚ is on the mend after having his fair share of drama.

Nicci Wright‚ of the African Pangolin Working Group‚ told TimesLIVE on Monday that the pangolin was dehydrated and that veterinarians were working to stablise him. She is also a representative of the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital and HSI-Africa. 

“He actually started crashing yesterday [Sunday] and we had to put him on a drip. At the moment he’s in his box and we’re hoping that he pulls through‚” she said. “They are widely used in muthi. Some cultures believe that pangolins are the greatest gift that can be bestowed on a person of authority and in the past many pangolins were presented to tribal chiefs and minsters as a sign of respect.”

Wright continued: “Some cultures believe that seeing a pangolin during the day indicates that a drought is imminent‚ and the only way to ward off the drought is to sacrifice the pangolin next to a river. Other cultures use pangolin fat to ward off evil spirits‚ while still others believe that carrying a pangolin scale or a vial of pangolin blood on one’s person will protect you from danger.”

Wright said that the animal’s only defence against predators was to roll into a ball‚ making them easy prey for poachers to pick up and put into a sack.

She said that if pangolins were rescued‚ they seldom ate while in captivity.

“They are rarely given water when they've been poached. They get progressively more compromised and are often in a dire state by the time they reach us‚” she said.

Wright added that once they're strong enough they go into a soft release process in a carefully selected habitat which is safe from poachers.

“The syndicates running the pangolin trade are the same that run rhino horn‚ ivory etc so international governments must route out the corruption and stop this horrendous trade. We are watching this species slip through our fingers and we won't even know when the last pangolin has gone.”

Police spokeswoman Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said that officers had set a trap for the man at the mall.

“An intelligence-driven operation was conducted which led to the arrest of 40-year-old Isaac Mutero [a Zimbabwean national] and he was charged for possession of an endangered species.

“The pangolin was seized and it was sent to the Wildlife Care Centre for safekeeping. Mutero appeared in Pietermaritzburg Magistrates Court and he was remanded in custody‚” she added.

Source: TimesLIVE