JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — Veterinarian Dr. Karin Lourens has become known as Africa’s “pangolin doctor” for leading medical efforts to help the scaly anteaters rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
Case in point, she’s treating an endangered ground pangolin, one of a species found in South and Eastern Africa, and he’s lucky.
He’s one of 50 pangolins rescued this year from wildlife traffickers and put in the care of Lourens.
Her ground-breaking medical care for the scaly anteaters means he is more likely to soon be back in his natural habitat.
“Very little is known about the Temminck’s ground pangolin,” Lourens said. “They have already had this poaching epidemic in Asia for quite a long time. So, they have had lots of time to do research on theirs. Whereas we get one at a time. Asian pangolins in captivity will eat out of a bowl. Ours do not. They have to be taken out into their natural environment and followed almost while they feed.”
Lourens’ team pioneered a tube-feeding method with low fat, high protein cat food to keep rescued pangolins alive and recovering.
Her blood-testing research has made it easier to tailor treatment plans for each pangolin.
The director of the Center for Veterinary Wildlife Science at the University of Pretoria, Professor Leith Meyer says Lourens’ work is far-reaching.
“She is discovering really important treatments,” Meyer said. “She has been discovering very important things about their normal physiology. How their normal body works. And that all allows her and will allow other people in the world to then better treat their pangolins.”
Nicci Wright is with the African Pangolin Working Group and Humane Society International. She says that in Africa, it is clear conserving pangolins is not just about stopping poachers.
“We need all the different aspects,” she said. “And at this point the most important one is the veterinary treatment.”
Pangolins receiving specialist treatment in South Africa have been doing well, says the chairperson of the African Pangolin Working Group, Professor Raymond Jansen.
“If we get them early enough, our success rate is out of the hospital more than 90 percent,” Jansen said. “We are monitoring them for up to a year following their release. And their success rate is about 75 percent.”
Pangolins are one of the most trafficked animals.
With Lourens’ help, it may just be possible to prevent this gentle creature from being completely wiped out.