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From Extinction to Conservation: Inside the Remarkable Return of Kenya's Giant Ground Pangolin After 47 Years

Farmers Set Aside Land After Pangolins Come Out of Hiding
Source: MEGA

An African pangolin curled into a ball at a nature preserve in Kenya.

Jan. 12 2024, Published 9:02 a.m. ET

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After disappearing from the spotlight for over 45 years, the giant ground pangolin has made a significant reappearance in East Africa.

However, this resurgence is accompanied by potential dangers, as animal traffickers reportedly covet pangolins more than any other creature on the planet.

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Recognized as an endangered species, experts had initially believed the giant ground pangolin to be extinct in Kenya since 1971. Several of these elusive creatures, however, were spotted in a forest in 2018.

Now, a non-profit organization known as the Pangolin Project is working tirelessly to protect the creatures by establishing dedicated spaces in western Kenya.

The mission of the Pangolin Project is to secure a future for African Pangolins in their native landscapes. However, reserving space for the animals presents a significant challenge.

Many farmers in Kenya clear forested areas for agricultural purposes and install electric fences to ward off larger animals like elephants. In November 2022, a pregnant giant ground pangolin tragically lost its life after colliding with an electric fence, The Guardian reported.

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Lamenting the loss, landowner and conservationist Fred Telekwa expressed his disbelief, stating, "How could one die within my land? I am yet to get over the loss."

With fears that no more than 80 giant ground pangolins may remain in Kenya, a conservation trust has been established by concerned farmers. They have dedicated approximately eight square miles of land to create a safe haven for these creatures.

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The battle is not just against habitat loss; it extends to combating those who view pangolins solely as commodities for their body parts.

Wildlife protection groups estimate that over the past decade, one million giant ground pangolins have fallen victim to poaching, resulting in 23.5 tons of pangolin and pangolin parts in 2021 alone.

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Despite international agreements making the trade in pangolins illegal, reports from Nature India reveal that between 1991 and 2022, 426 seizures in that country involved over 8,600 pangolins, with 192 of them still alive.

Under Asian tradition, the pangolin's unique overlapping scales are revered as a medical miracle, believed to aid in various ailments from liver problems to hangovers. According to The Cool Down, Africa is home to four different pangolin species, while Asia boasts four more.

Beryl Makori of The Pangolin Project said, "I feel we are protecting the last of the pangolins. We will give all it takes for a protected habitat with a viable population."

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