For Maria Diekmann from Nambia's Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST), saving pangolins is part of the job. When she received an early morning call in September last year about a scaly anteater suffering from a severe femoral fracture, she hopped in the Trust's rescue truck and headed into the Namibian vastness.

Veterinarian Dr Moyo assesses the inured pangolin. Image © REST

After scooping up the pangolin, Diekmann rushed to a veterinary clinic in nearby Otjiwarongo where Dr Moyo was waiting to assess the damage "The animal was in critical condition," Diekmann told us via email. After listening to advice from the Tikki Hywood Trust in Zimbabwe and Save Vietnam's Wildlife in Asia, a decision was made to anaesthetise the pangolin so x-rays could be conducted. "A tube was put down his throat to put food into his stomach," Diekmann explains. "The sedating and tubing of pangolins has not often been done in Namibia and is a very sensitive operation. If not performed perfectly this can prove fatal."

The pangolin pulled through, but after much deliberation, surgery was deemed too risky and the inured anteater was taken to REST for intensive care and physiotherapy. It took a few weeks of sleepless nights and dedicated care from Diekmann and her team, but the injured pangolin started to show signs of progress. "He's starting to relax and respond to our care," Maria wrote on in a Facebook update. He even managed to win the affections of Honey Bun – another of Diekmann's pangolin rescues who was initially skeptical of the hobbling new arrival. A video uploaded to the REST Facebook page shows the injured pangolin allowing Honey Bun to clean his scales (rather than rolling up defensively as pangolins are wont to do). "A real achievement!" Diekmann says.


Over the next few months, the team kept a close watch on the pangolin's recovery and did everything they could to speed up the healing process. "Because of his walking disability (he still limps and must use his tail as a crutch) he is given physio daily," Diekmann explains. He is also treated to daily bush walks so he can forage for food and do other 'pangoliny' stuff. "In the evenings he has complete access to a caregiver and another pangolin that he has become great friends with."

Unfortunately, due to the severity of his injuries, the pangolin will not be release back into the wild. "He cannot forage long enough to get enough of his daily diet in the wild. He will continue to have treatment, follow up veterinarian care and love at the centre with access to his best pangolin friend for social contact with his own species," Diekmann tells us.

It's hoped that he can become an ambassador for his species to help spread awareness about the plight of pangolins worldwide. He's the right candidate for the job. Rescued from the black market, "Big Boy" (as he's sometimes called by the REST team) is a living example of the sorts of threats that these animals face as demand for their body parts continues to rise.

The injured pangolin on the road to recovery. Image © Noelle Alcorn/REST

The scaly animals have been called "the most trafficked mammal you've never heard of". Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in China and their scales are sought after for use in traditional medicine. While the animals are protected under international law, illegal trafficking is surging and thousands of these animals are killed every year. Just a few days ago, authorities in Malaysia seized 30 tons of pangolin parts worth an estimated $2 million.

“This species is literally being wiped out, it’s being obliterated across central Africa, there’s no doubt about that,” Stuart Nixon, a field program co-ordinator at the Chester Zoo, told the BBC. "Trying to get people engaged and to care about pangolins is really the key step.”

REST are currently running a fun-raising contest for World Pangolin Day that gives supporters a chance to give Big Boy a more fitting name. Visit their Facebook page for more.

Top header image: David Brossard