Pangolins, sometimes called ‘scaly anteaters’, are the only mammals in the world that are covered in hard overlapping and protective scales made of keratin - the same substance as human fingernails and rhino horn. They live on a diet consisting entirely of ants and termites, which they lap up with their long sticky tongues. These interesting animals are able to quickly, roll themselves up into a tight ball when threatened by a potential predator.
The Giant Pangolin, measuring up to 5.9ft (1.8m) long and weighing up to 5st (75lbs) is by far the largest of the world’s eight pangolin sub-species and is found only in the rainforests and grasslands of equatorial Africa. However, very little is known about giant pangolin behaviour, ecology and habitat requirements – crucial information is urgently required in order for conservationists to develop strategies to monitor populations and protect them.
The zoo team, in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Rhino Ranch managed by Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU), is aiming to uncover new information about the rare nocturnal mammal. So far, the zoo has installed 70 motion-sensor trail cameras installed in Ziwa and these cameras have now captured hundreds of images and video clips of giant Pangolin. From these images and films, the researchers are now able to identify a number of individual Pangolins by the unique marks and patterns on their scales and are recording previously unknown behaviours.
Despite being protected by international wildlife laws that ban all pangolin trade, they remain the most illegally trafficked group of mammals in the world. Their meat is considered a delicacy in many countries and their scales are widely used in traditional medicines, particularly in Vietnam and China, despite no medical benefit.