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Pangolin Project Update

Little is known about the reproduction and life cycle of the ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii). The research that has been done, originates mainly from South Africa and is based on limited observations.

This is due to the very shy and illusive nature of pangolins, spending inactive periods in deep burrows and most of their active hours under cover in the darkness of night amidst dangerous animals. Females give birth to one pup per year after a gestation period of about 140 days. Marked breeding seasons have been noted across their range. In Namibia, a majority of births have been observed during the rainy season (October-March). The pups are born with soft pink scales, which harden over the first few days of life. They weigh only a few hundred grams. Pups remain in the safety of the burrow the first three to four months of life, only leaving the safety of the burrow when the mother moves them to a new one. The pup rides on the mother’s back, clinging to her shoulders with its front feet while also using its strong tail to help grip on. When confronted with danger, the mother will roll her entire body and tail around the pup to protect it.

At around four months of age, they are weaned and begin to forage on their own, they will most often remain in their natal range, the territory in which they were born and raised that belongs to their mother and occasionally father, during this time. At one to two years of age, pups disperse from their natal range and begin looking for a territory of their own. Juveniles have been found to disperse up to 35 km, whilst translocated individuals have been found to cover hundreds of kilometers. Further research on this topic is important because this preliminary data suggests dispersal can positively contribute towards recolonization and gene flow, all of which have valuable implications for the conservation of the species, especially in areas where pangolin are locally extinct due to persecution.

The start of the research project brought exciting moments early on. Four tagged females were discovered with pups this past year, which provided a rare glimpse into their rearing. Three of the four were thrilling chance encounters discovering the pups riding along on their mother’s back during routine tracking. The fourth individual was initially observed in a shallow burrow with its mother and was often seen nursing and moving around through the burrow entrance.

When pups are young, they have thin and brittle scales and are very small. For ethical reasons, pups can only be tagged when they reach a certain weight to be sure the transmitters do not negatively impact their wellbeing. For this reason, only individuals over 3kg are tagged. At the beginning of this winter, after a few months of no sightings, all four pups were located in the home range of their mother and were tagged. All individuals are weighed and measured during the tagging process. This is an exciting accomplishment for the project to further understand the survival and life cycle of ground pangolin.