When scientists believe in Ghost
With his 1.72m and 38 kg, the animal fairly deserves the name of giant pangolin. A unique specimen, the biggest in the world on record so far, was captured after 2 weeks of exhausting walk in the forest, often under heavy tropical rain and on slipping soil.
Lead by Dr. David Lehmann, the scientist team working for the Wildlife Capture Unit from the National Agency of Natural Parks of Gabon, finally managed to seize this variety of the world’s most-trafficked mammal. Their patience was rewarded. An exciting and heart-warming event for the whole team, as all 8 existing pangolin species are solitary and mysterious, most are predominantly nocturnal. It is therefore very hard to study pangolins, in its natural environment
The huge pangolin, nicknamed Ghost, was put to sleep and peacefully snoozed for 1 hour and 45 minutes. During this time, the animal’s vital signs such as temperature, heart rate, breathing etc. were under close observation by the specialists. The operation involved the set-up of a GPS tracking device onto one of Ghost’s impressive keratinous scales that cover the body.
“The entire operation was closely monitored to avoid Ghost’s discomfort ,” Dr. Lehmann says,” as a very strict security protocol was implemented by our Agency on species never observed before in these circumstances. The pangolin was captured, tranquilized and later on released. He emerged quickly from his sleep and fully recovered after 2 hours of trekking in its natural habitat. We stopped following him when he started crossing several rivers with ease, a good sign that he had regained his full motricity. This is a huge step forward, to better understand the giant pangolin and implicitly, to better adapt the conservation policies to his needs, aiming to save this rare mammal. Our team was so thrilled, proud and happy to successfully achieve this highly complex work.“
The pangolin was captured, tranquilized and later on released. He emerged quickly from his sleep and fully recovered after 2 hours of trekking in its natural habitat.
Dr. Lehmann,Director of Research at the renowned scientific station of the Lopé Park (SEGC).
The first 3 months of observation of the GPS data highlighted key information about Ghost’s habits and behaviour, over a territory of about 38 km2, in both primary and secondary forests, crossing savannah between forest patches and swimming across the Lopé river. For once, a team of enthusiastic scientists believe in Ghosts, but only the scaled ones….
“Upon release, we could delineate his spatial movement and activity in some spectacular natural places. He brought us to underground complex galleries with adjoining rooms for him to rest”, says Dr. Lehmann, also Director of Research at the renowned scientific station of the Lopé Park (SEGC). “We have entered through an underground tunnel, 30 m long, which is per se a unique experience. It was genuinely exceptional to find him serene and snoring. It was quite mesmerising to see one of these bewildering and mysterious creatures carelessly sleeping in his natural environment. It was like entering a personal and intimate space of an endangered species, emblematic of the human impact on the wildlife”, adds the passionate scientist, who lives and works at the Research station in the middle of the forest all year long.
This research study already helped to put together precious pieces of information about Ghost’s habits, his habitat preferences and other activity patterns. The importance and the large array of observations make the efforts of the scientists team in the Lopé Park even more remarkable and bring a substantial contribution to the pangolin conservation efforts and wildlife protection in Central Africa. The scientific research at Lopé Natural Park is an ongoing process as the Lopé team is currently observing another pangolin and spotted the trails of another 2. amongst other seasoned scientific activities, on a daily basis.
The ant-eater pangolin is protected by law in many countries, and it is formally forbidden to chase him. Still, the animal is hunted for the scales, made of keratin, the same material as the human fingernails, very popular in Chinese medicine. It is also tracked for its meat, a delicacy for local populations in both Central Africa and some Asian countries. All pangolin species are jeopardized by extinction. Yet, surprisingly, pangolins are one of the least-known mammal groups of the planet.
Maintaining the integrity of regional ecosystems by better understanding the behaviour of the local species, including the giant pangolin such as Ghost, is also key to reduce the risk of zoonotic spill-over events, such as COVID19. This is a direct consequence of more and more inappropriate human - wildlife interaction.
Ghost’s observation is a clear illustration of the importance of the scientific work that needs to be done to protect wildlife, and of the efforts to be made to reconsider our interaction with the natural environment.
ECOFAC6 - a strong European commitment to protect wildlife in Central Africa
The scientific activities at Lopé National Park are also made possible by the EU funded ECOFAC6 Programme. With a budget of more than €80 million, ECOFAC6 is stepping up its funding for the conservation of Central Africa's wet tropical forests. The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) is a key actor of its implementation.
Not many conservation specific programmes in the world can celebrate 30 years of constant commitment. Initiated by the EU back in 1992, ECOFAC was launched in the wake of the Earth Summit in Rio. The clear ambition was, from the very beginning, to contribute to the conservation and rational use of forest ecosystems and biodiversity in Central Africa. The region has the planet's second largest tropical forest system after the Amazon forest. Seven countries are currently involved in: Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, DRC, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Sao Tomé and Príncipe. This work is critical for safeguarding important African biodiversity, including threatened species as the pangolin. Protecting ecosystems is deemed essential in developing countries that are home to large biodiversity and where people’s livelihoods are greatly reliant on nature.