Tragedy as 'surprise' endangered pangolin pup doesn't survive second night

A pleasant surprise has turned into tragedy following the death of a pangolin pup barely 24 hours after it was born. 

On Tuesday, one of the endangered pangolins in the care of the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Centre (JWVC) unexpectedly gave birth to the pup, which was called Mishwa – “surprise” in Shona.

The JWVC treats a variety of wild animals found in urban areas or rescued during sting operations. Among these are pangolins, which are poached at an alarming rate for their scales. 

In fact, the threat to these animals is so severe that no pangolins are kept on the JWVC’s premises. They temporarily reside in a guarded and secure location.

“Being reclusive solitary animals, Temmincks ground pangolins (Smutsia temminckii) are placed under enormous stress when poached from their wild habitat to be sold in the illegal wildlife trade,” the JWVC writes on its Facebook page. 

“In addition to stress, poached pangolins are often kept in terrible conditions, often involving efforts to disguise their unique smell in attempts to keep them hidden from authorities. They are often starved too, for days, as they only eat a specific diet while foraging. All this severely threatens their survival and enormous amounts of stress compromises their health. This can result in organs shutting down, meaning the poor pangolins untimely death.

“In addition to this, should the pangolin be pregnant, this might result in the early birth of their baby. Premature births often don’t survive – thus adding a further threat to our pangolin population – the future generation.”

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On Wednesday, after checking on mom Ellie and baby Mishwa, the centre’s resident veterinarian Dr Karin Lourens found Mishwa was cold and weak. While her mom Ellie was feeding her, it seemed that she was not able to produce enough milk for little Mishwa.

“When I weighed the pup, she was 30g lighter than at birth, which was concerning,” Lourens told News24.


Dextrose and a drip were administered to the little pup to build her strength and energy levels, and she was support-fed throughout the night. Despite this, she seemed to get weaker and weaker and did not survive the night.


According to Lourens, if a pup is born too early, their lungs are underdeveloped, which results in them only surviving between 24 and 48 hours.

“While we knew this was a huge possibility, we still held on to the hope that she would be okay.

“Our team is devastated. We experience the trauma from the illegal wildlife trade on a regular basis. Mishwa was a bundle of hope in a dire crisis we face in trying to save this species among caring for all the other wildlife critters that come our way.”

Pangolins, according to Lourens, are considered medicinal in Asian countries – much like rhino horn.

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“Last year alone, 60 tons of scales were found – that’s 400 000 individual animals that were killed,” Lourens says.

“Combine elephant, rhino, lions… you don’t get close to that number.”

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According to Lourens, it is impossible to determine how many pangolins are left in the world. They are nocturnal and live underground and in enclosed areas such as caves.

“Their scales are so tough that an adult lion can’t penetrate them. That’s how they have survived for 80 million years, because they have no natural predator.

“They now have only one enemy – humans.”


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