Pangolins to be welcomed in March

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  13. 11. 2021

Just as with many of our other plans, the covid-19 pandemic complicated and delayed the pangolins’ arrival to Prague Zoo. But now we know we’ll be able to welcome them at the end of March, when a pair of Chinese pangolins (Manis pentadactyla) will arrive from Taipei Zoo: a female, Run Hou Tang, and a male, Gun Bao.

Male Chinese pangolin Gun Bao. Photo: Taipei Zoo Male Chinese pangolin Gun Bao. Photo: Taipei Zoo

Pangolins really are exceptional animals, and this becomes even more apparent when we look at them through the astonished eyes of our ancestors. In 1854, at the beginning of his life of public service, the journalist and politician, Eduard Grégr, wrote about them in the magazine Živa: “... a four-legged beast, as long and low as our marten, which, when God gave the animals their clothes, mistakenly donned a fish’s coat, although its scales, unlike those of fish, made of bone- or glass-like substances, are made of hairs stuck together”. From another contemporary text we can add that “in trade it compares to an anteater”.

All eight pangolin species, which live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, are under tremendous pressure, both because of the popularity of their meat and the fact that their scales and other body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine. For many years they have been the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world and the red list has seen most of them, including the Chinese pangolin, rise to the category of critically endangered. That is why we have also spent many years getting involved in their conservation: in Cameroon, mainly by educating and raising awareness among the local population, and in Laos and Indonesia by funding the construction of rescue stations for animals confiscated from poachers. And, naturally, for many years we have been endeavouring to bring them to our zoo so that you can see them, admire them – and, perhaps, help with their conservation.

Female Chinese pangolin Run Hou Tang. Photo: Taipei ZooFemale Chinese pangolin Run Hou Tang. Photo: Taipei Zoo

However, breeding pangolins is no easy task. We had them in Prague a long time ago, but as in other zoos, they soon died. Today, there are very few facilities that can boast pangolins, and there is only one in Europe. What’s more, the number of zoos that successfully breed them can be counted on the finger of one hand. In this respect, Taipei Zoo stands out, and it is from here, thanks to the talks held by Mayor of Prague Zdeněk Hřib, that the pangolins are coming to Prague.

Not even the import of pangolins is easy, and it was made even more complicated by covid. Besides the negotiations with EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and the intricate processing of many permits in Taiwan and here, we had to start the complex reconstruction of the nocturnal dwelling in the Indonesian Jungle exhibit.

When it was clear that everything would be sorted and ready by the end of the year, we hesitated: should we transport the pangolins in winter? Air transport still doesn't work as it did in the pre-covid times, and if there were problems and the pangolins had to wait somewhere in the cold, things could have turned out very badly indeed. However, nature made the decision for us. Run Hou Tang gave birth and will only be able to fly in when she has weaned her pup, i.e., at the start of spring. We hope that everything will work out just as we imagine and that, after the necessary quarantine, we will be able to introduce our pangolins to our visitors.