This summer I have been fortunate enough to be able to work with Save Vietnam’s Wildlife in northern Vietnam. This wildlife rescue center brings in some of Southeast Asia’s most endangered animals and nurtures them back to health until they can be released back into the wild. While the center has many different species including binturongs, owston’s civets, and leopard cats, the animal they specialize in is the pangolin. The best description I have heard of a pangolin is that it is a cross between an armadillo and an anteater. They are about the size of a small dog and are covered in scales made of keratin which help to protect their soft underbellies from predators when they roll up into a ball. Unfortunately, while these scales may protect them from predators, they are very valuable in China where they are used in traditional medicine to supposedly heal a variety of ailments. This demand for their scales in China has made the pangolin the most trafficked mammal in the world and as a result, all eight species of pangolin are on the decline in the wild.
Pangolin trafficking is illegal in Vietnam so whenever a poacher is busted, the person is arrested and the pangolins are taken to Save Vietnam’s Wildlife where they are rehabilitated and put back into the wild. These busts can be anywhere from a single pangolin to a few hundred and the center is always ready for the next call which may bring them to remote corners of Vietnam. On one of these recoveries a female pangolin was found clutching a small baby weighing just over 100 grams. Unfortunately the mother died shortly after the rescue and the center was left to take care of the baby. The center decided that it would be best to hand raise the pangolin and the vet whose job it was to raise her decided to name her Kim.
That rescue was over six months ago and Kim is now just over a kilogram. She is very much the favorite of the center’s staff and her hand rearing means that she loves to crawl around on anyone who picks her up. For a while there was a debate about whether or not to release her into the wild. While some of the staff argued that she would be best off being released with the other pangolins, it was decided that her hand rearing meant that she would not have the skills to survive in the wild. With that in mind it was decided that Kim should be her own permanent enclosure at the center. The growth of the center in the past year necessitated the building of an additional building to house more pangolins and it was decided that one of the new enclosures in that building should be Kim’s.
I was lucky enough to be there on the day that we put Kim in her new enclosure. Hai, the vet that had raised her since her arrival, wanted to make sure that she was comfortable and so padded her bed box with ten new towels and moved some of the branches from her old enclosure to the new one so that she smelled something familiar.
A few days have passed since then and Kim seems to be taking to her new home. She is climbing all over her new branches and Hai still goes to feed her and say hello each day.