A year ago, Lies was saved from poachers. Her rescuers gave her everything she needed to grow strong, but there was one thing missing: home. Then one day, Lies’ carers took her somewhere, and she watched with growing excitement as more and more trees came into view.
Lies is a pangolin – a rare species of mammal that rolls into a ball when in danger, using its hard scales to protect itself. However, there are some threats that their armor can’t protect them from. In fact, their scales are one reason why they’re targeted.
That’s because pangolin scales are a highly desired ingredient in some branches of traditional Chinese medicine. There is no scientific evidence to support this practice, but unfortunately it has made pangolins a target. That’s not the only reason they’re prized amongst poachers, either.
Despite laws created to protect pangolins, their meat is also a delicacy in some parts of Africa and Asia. As a result, hunters have brought these shy and timid creatures close to extinction. They’re now considered the world’s most trafficked creature.
In 2017, rescuers struck it lucky and saved a young pangolin from traffickers in Liberia. Jenny Desmond, the co-founder of Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection (LCRP) assisted with the operation. She spoke to The Dodo about it on March 22, 2018.
“They’re sold here live on the streets of Monrovia,” she explained. “Our law enforcement task force is currently putting systems in place to combat this ASAP.” Desmond added that as far as she knew, this pangolin was the first living specimen ever rescued in Liberia.
But LCRP wasn’t the only rescue group on hand to help the pangolin. She was sent to the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary (LiWiSa), whose manager at the time, Julie Vanassche, took charge. Vanassche intended to nurse the pangolin back to health with the ultimate goal of releasing her.
Vanassche named the pangolin after a Belgian friend called Lies and prepared to raise her. But there was one problem – Lies was her first pangolin rescue. Furthermore, pangolins are notoriously difficult to raise in captivity, so Vanassche had her work cut out for her.
With that in mind, she called Zimbabwe’s Tikki Hywood Foundation (THF) and spoke to Lisa Hywood. Hywood told The Dodo that the information exchange didn’t just bring her and Vanassche together. It also united the two rescue groups in a way that will benefit future projects.
“Julie and I talked [about the] pangolin daily,” Hywood described. “We have all created a lifetime bond which will I believe only become stronger over time. And together we will continue to save multiple species including the pangolin.”
“We all came to meet up with one another through the rescue of this one little lady, Lies,” Hywood concluded. Despite the trials of raising a young pangolin, Vanassche rose to the challenge with Hywood’s help. Over the next year, Lies grew strong.
Desmond said that another person also assisted in raising the pangolin. “[Lies] spent most of the last year being ‘walked’ multiple times a day by her Liberian caregiver, Angie. She became a very independent young lady,” she explained to The Dodo.
Since Lies developed so well, her carers knew it was time to reintroduce her to the wild. Consequently, in early March 2018 they put Lies in a crate and took her out into the forest. She watched the scenery go by intently from her container as they went.
As soon as the pangolin saw the forest approach, however, she was instantly alert. She stayed that way until rescuers carried her crate into the forest and opened its door. Finally, Lies was home again, and it seemed as though she knew it.
Lies’ curiosity turned to excitement when she stepped out of her cage and viewed her surroundings. The first thing she did was go in search of food. Pangolins exist entirely on insects – with ants being their favored choice – and Lies knew just where to find some.
LCRP described Lies’ release on Facebook on March 12, 2018. “After a very lengthy and labor intensive rehabilitation process, it surely didn’t take long for Lies to find her dinner,” they wrote. After that, the little pangolin ran off into the trees and out of sight.
And in case you are worrying about Lies being recaptured and trafficked, you don’t need to. “She is now back in the forest on LCRP’s new land,” Desmond told The Dodo. “[She’s] free and wild and with tons of ants!”
Lies’ rescue wouldn’t have been possible without the help of all the organizations that pitched in. The good news is that their collaboration has inspired them to work together in the future, too. That is promising news for the other pangolins out there faced with extinction.
Within the past ten years, traffickers victimized more than a million pangolins. As a result, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (who came up with that estimate) have classified four pangolin species as vulnerable. Two other species are endangered, and the last two are critically endangered.
Habitat loss has also played a part in the looming downfall of the species. Thanks to conservationists, though, the fight is on the save the pangolin species from extinction. And if Lies’ rescue shows us anything, it’s that there is still hope for them yet.