'Mission impossible': Desperate effort to save creature confiscated from children

·News and Video Producer
·4-min read

A heartbreaking discovery has been made by an animal rescuer working to prevent poaching near a remote forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The wildlife investigator, from not-for-profit Conserv Congo, became curious after seeing children playing with a tiny creature while he was travelling through a small village near Bokungu on Sunday (local time).

Resembling a reptile more than a mammal due to its scaly appearance, the man who cannot be identified for operational reasons, realised the animal was actually a baby pangolin.

The baby pangolin after it was rescued. Source: Suppplied
Children were seen playing with the baby pangolin before it was rescued. Source: Suppplied

Speaking with the children, they revealed the pangolin was left orphaned after subsistence poachers captured and butchered his mother.

With the town bordering the Salonga National Park, Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve, animals that venture beyond its borders are often hunted and eaten by poor villagers.

As pangolins defensively curl up in a ball when approached, they had been unaware she was carrying a baby.

'Mission impossible': Worldwide effort to save baby pangolin

With the pangolin so young its umbilical cord was still attached, he was initially deemed too fragile to undertake the two days travel required to reach the nearest airport.

Running on very limited funds, Conserv Congo is run by a dedicated group of Congolese nationals dedicating their lives to saving the biodiverse wildlife across the nation, with an expertise in primates. 

From his base in the capital Kinshasa, Conserv Congo's founder Adams Cassinga took to Twitter to ask for tips on keeping the pangolin alive, resulting in a wealth of ideas from around the world.

“Mission impossible: Our energy today is on saving a baby pangolin,” he wrote before calling for advice.

The rescuer feeding the baby animal. Source: Supplied
The rescuer was required to feed the baby animal every two hours. Source: Supplied

Speaking with Yahoo News Australia last night, Mr Cassinga said the rescuer had now established a routine and the baby was doing surprisingly well, despite them having few resources available in the remote location.

“So the routine is my guy has to actually sleep with it with the body temperature, trying to keep it warm,” Mr Cassinga said.

“Every two hours he’s got to feed it with a syringe and its only surviving on warm water with milk powder and sugar.”

Things you may not know about pangolins

  • Some scientists believe pangolins could be the original source of Covid-19.

  • Pangolin scales are made of keratin, which is the same substance as fingernails.

  • China has banned the consumption of most wildlife, including pangolins.

  • Pangolins are mainly nocturnal and can eat up to 70 million insects per year. 

Pangolin scales highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine

With the eight pangolin species living across Africa and Asia highly prized as both bush meat and as an ingredient in Chinese and Vietnamese traditional medicine, they are now one of the most trafficked mammals on Earth.

As pressure grows to stop the trade in ivory, many poachers have turned to trading in pangolin scales instead, despite an international trade ban.

The various species now range from being listed as vulnerable to critically endangered.

Mr Cassinga said he was crossing his fingers that the baby pangolin survives, adding that it would be “very good conservation success, not only on our side, but at a global scale”.

“I think the pangolin is going to be the face of extinction and saving such a precious species is such a good strong positive message that we'll be sending out there,” he said.

“We hope that we can keep that hope alive.”

Hope turns to heartbreak despite remarkable rescue effort

Mr Cassinga was upbeat as the phone call concluded, but became emotional at the thought of losing the tiny animal.

“I'm very nervous, saving a precious life like that we have already rescued, and the fear of losing it is really tormenting me,” he said.

A pangolin and a bucket of their scales. Source: Getty
Despite the work of conservationists (left), the demand for pangolin scales (right) is driving all species towards extinction. Source: Getty

Later that night he sent through a short text, coupled with a crying emoji.

“Unfortunately, the baby just gave up,” he wrote.

He then took to Twitter to share the sad news.

“One of the saddest days of my life! We tried but destiny caught us off guard,” he wrote.

Rescuer has 'responsibility' to continue saving wildlife

Despite his heartbreak at the loss of the Pangolin, Mr Cassinga will find a way to continue his work. 

Having lived in exile during the war, he returned to the Congo to work in the mining sector but left to work with wildlife after feeling "guilty" for being complicit at the destruction of wilderness. 

"I do this because it's a responsibility that I have, not only as a citizen of this country, but also as a global citizen," he told Yahoo News Australia in July.

"When we protect this biodiversity, it does not just benefit us, it benefits the entire world, it benefits humanity."

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