Kuru’s Story: Saving a Pangolin

This pangolin was young, under two years of age. She was poached in the Kuruman region of the Northern Cape Province, South Africa.  Two men carried her in a blue crate until they were intercepted and arrested. The poachers were each granted bail of R10 000, an unprecedented amount in a pangolin poaching case.


Kuru holding on

The confiscated pangolin was taken through to the National Zoological Gardens (NZG) in Pretoria. It is here, in the veterinary hospital, that all confiscated pangolins are anaesthetized and undergo a full physical examination. Injuries, external parasites, broken scales, dehydration and any other issues are all noted and treated. Forensic DNA sampling (blood and scale clipping) is carried out and this valuable information is stored at the NZG, BioBank. Such DNA Sample of Origin Testing can be done to determine exactly where the pangolin originated from. These samples are used as evidence in court proceedings against poachers. Once these procedures were complete, the little pangolin was brought to the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital where she would be under my care, along with Dr Karin Lourens.

Named Kuru, this little pangolin endeared herself to all of us and we were determined to do the best we could for her.  She was sedated for the first night to allow her a complete and deep rest. Although outward signs of stress are sometimes not obvious, most poached pangolins have been in captivity for at least a week, are dehydrated and haven’t been able to feed. She slept right through the following day and that night we went walking for ants and termites. This pattern continued for the next seven days and her condition stabilized.  I contacted Gus van Dyk, General Manager of the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve and he agreed that Kuru could be released into that huge, safe reserve – perfect pangolin habitat. In the meanwhile, the Northern Cape authorities issued a permit for Kuru to enter that province and the African Pangolin Working Group secured a telemetry tracking unit for her which was custom-made to fit her small scales.  At the end of the week, Kuru and I boarded a private plane bound for Tswalu which was to become her new home.


Fitting the telemetry unit

Everyone who has heard Kuru’s story and seen and experienced her benign tolerance, has become smitten and invested in her successful future.  The support from so many has enabled Kuru to come full circle and be brought home. We fitted the telemetry and drove her to a dune deep inside Tswalu. She immediately began to feast on the  cocktail ants which poured out of the base of a tree. We are grateful that Kuru is monitored daily by Wendy Panaino, a PhD student studying pangolins on the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve.  Post release monitoring is critical so that we know what her movements are, where she chooses to sleep and other behaviours – which are little known regarding this species.

Kuru's new home

Kuru’s new home

Seeing Kuru walk on the red Kalahari sand and watching her feast on ants, my heart was full. I knew that we had all done the best we could for this lucky pangolin.

Written by Nicci Wright – Wildlife Project Manager:  HSI – Africa, Executive Director: African Pangolin Working Group and Director: JHB Wildlife Veterinary Hospital.


Perfect pangolin habitat


Kuru is the pangolin that Nicci Wright worked to rehabilitate as part of our Saving Pangolins story which aired this past Sunday.

You can watch the full story below.