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Chester Zoo cameras reveal new insights into the secret lives of rare giant pangolins

Conservationists from Chester Zoo have captured ‘momentous’ video footage of the elusive giant pangolin

Part of a pioneering study which is revealing new insights into the previously secret lives of the little-known species.

The zoo team, in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU), is aiming to uncover new information about the rare nocturnal animals in the first ever study of species in Uganda. 

Scientists hope to generate vital data that will help with the long-term conservation of giant pangolins in Uganda, and elsewhere in Africa.

Pangolins are protected by international wildlife laws that ban their trade, but 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 there being no medical benefit from their use.

Now, researchers from Chester Zoo have surveyed for the presence of giant pangolins within three protected areas in Uganda. Working alongside the RFU, they have carried out an intensive survey of the country’s Ziwa Sanctuary using camera traps and tracking techniques such as looking for footprints, burrows and other signs of the species.

So far, the 70 motion-sensor trail cameras installed by the zoo in Ziwa have captured hundreds of images and video clips of giant pangolins, including the first colour footage of the species ever recorded in Uganda. 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

Stuart Nixon, Chester Zoo’s Africa Field Programme and Research Lead, said:

“The giant pangolin is a beautiful, mysterious and utterly fascinating species but studying them is extremely challenging . Being nocturnal, rare and very shy it’s only with new technologies such as high sensitivity trail cameras that we are able to learn more about how they live and interact with their each other and their environment.

“Tragically we do know the giant pangolin faces a huge risk of going extinct across Central Africa. With no giant pangolins in zoos or safari parks anywhere in the world, all our conservation efforts must focus on saving them in the wild. The race is on against criminal networks that only value dead pangolins, to save this species and protect them well into the future.

“The momentous images and video we are capturing at Ziwa prove that when sites are well protected against poaching giant pangolins and other species can flourish.”

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