April 2013: Victor, a rescued pangolin's story

A pangolin, we named 'Victor' was rescued from use in 'Muti', African traditional medicine by a 'sting operation' in the Walvis Bay area of Namibia on March 27th 2013. The offender was caught trying to sell a pangolin for N$ 5000, ie about US$460 (what he previously got for a pangolin) and was duly taken in custody. The animal was a male, weighing 5.5kg, 105cm long, 45cm width.

Damage to Stevie's scales

Damage to Victor's scales

On capture, he was found to have a similar pattern of scale damage as we've noticed previously, e.g. on the pangolin, 'Stevie', perhaps from wire cutters used to break out circular portions of scales to grind up for medicinal concoctions. However, Victor was in good condition, so probably was lucky that he had not been held in captivity for long. He was taken for walks along the Swakop river on Mar 27/28th to feed on ants, then released on March 29th in Mundulea after tagging with a radio telemetry transmitter.
Victor with an RF tag
 As shown below, Victor's locations were tracked over the period 30th Mar - 7th May 2013 by Timotheus Andreas and US Fulbrite Fellow Michael Blake who was temporarily helping our project.
Victor's 37-day path in Mundulea,
after release from Mar 30th 2013 (most N'ly flag) to demise May 7th
Sightings/RF tag locations on different days marked with a red flag.
To illustrate the type of auxiliary data and notes that should be recorded during this type of tracking work, an extract of Michael's log is included below, omitting the GPS location data entries. We noticed that Victor sometimes re-used the same den on successive nights.

Conveniently, they were usually able to detect Victor from a single base location and did not have to climb any hills to pick up his signal. Twice Tim and Michael went looking at night for other pangolins after they had found Victor and checked for his signal again at a distance away, to test the receiver's range. Both times, they detected his RF tag from the top of hills about 4 km away.

Occasionally Victor was weighed, e.g. on Apr 13th at 5.3kg, close to his release weight, while his condition and behaviour checks seemed healthy.

Sadly Victor died early in May 2013. Michael and Tim found his remains eventually, pulled out from a den which he had been down during previous nights. Apparently something had dragged Victor out of the warren earlier on May 9th as there were clear signs of wear to the entrance of to one hole. (They had located Victor's signal in the same spot on the night of May 8th, but had assumed that he was in a hole as they couldn't find anything above ground.) Their conclusion was that they couldn't detect Victor's signal over the previous week because he was already dead, deep in the warren.

Victor's remains #1
Victor's remains #2
(Photos by Michael Drake)

There was some blood dried on the back of Victor's scales near the transmitter and some damage to the scales near Victor's head.  One of the scales there looked as if  it had broken in half.  It is difficult to decide whether  this damage happened naturally in Victor's lifetime or was caused by whatever killed him.  You can see this damage in the bottom half of the close up picture above. From the underside, none of the soft tissue was left and his digging claws were missing.  The scales from the head, legs and arms were mostly intact. All his fleshy parts had been eaten, but that may have been after the body was dragged out.  We tend to think that he had been killed by a predator, probably a Honey Badger. It is doubtful that he died of starvation as the animal had been in good condition previously and his weight had been recently on the increase.

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