Almost all of the pangolins we care for have been rescued from the clutches of wildlife traffickers. They’ve suffered so much – when they arrive at our door they’re often exhausted, dehydrated, and carrying life-threatening injuries.

This was the case when we received a live pangolin confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade at 10pm on a Friday.


This juvenile Temminck’s ground pangolin weighed 4.44kg when she came to us – at this weight she would have been fully weaned from her mother but still living in the area she was born and occasionally sharing a burrow with mum. Although she was able to make a tight curl, she was walking on all four limbs (her forelimbs and hind limbs) and dragging her tail. She was weak, slow, and reluctant to move. She just curled up. When we tried to take her to forage for ants, all she could do was sleep.

Our integrations coordinator named her ‘Thandizo’, which is Chichewa for ‘help’ – “because she got the help she needed at a critical moment.” We quickly realised that Thandi would need an extended rehabilitation period. Firstly to ensure that she recovered from the effects of her time in captivity without complication; and secondly so we could conduct a thorough behavioural assessment to establish that she was able to display all of the required skills to survive in the wild, where she belongs.


With the right care, Thandi’s condition was soon improving! We saw the first positive signs of weight gain.

As is common with the pangolins rescued from traffickers, Thandi also came to us dehydrated – evidence that she was never offered water during her time in captivity. Removing pangolins from their natural habitat presents a serious welfare concern especially in young animals such as this. Thankfully, she bounced back from this setback and was soon showing us all the right indications of a healthily hydrated pangolin.

We also discovered that Thandi came to us with a heavy mite infestation. Mites are known to cause a number of dermatological diseases for pangolins and may cause anaemia by sucking blood. The presence of mites in a pangolin often indicates that the animal has been under severe stress for a long period of time.


Once we got the infestation under control – and were confident in her general health – she now made the big transition from Lilongwe Wildlife Centre out to a protected wildlife reserve. She handled the journey without any issues and soon settled in under the watchful eye of her dedicated carer.

As well as accompanying Thandi on regular foraging walks, the carer (who has to remain anonymous for security reasons) checked her daily for any health complications.

Thanks to her daily foraging walks, Thandi was able to put on even more weight – an important element of her rehabilitation process.

Release prep

In preparation for her final release, Thandi was now fitted with a satellite tag – a device we use to support our monitoring of pangolins after they’re released. In addition to the sat tag, she was equipped with a transmitter which is useful for short-range monitoring (and in case she wanders off during her rehabilitation walking process!).

We also drilled small holes into her scales (a completely painless process). This helps us to identify pangolins after release – for example, if they’re picked up by a camera trap.

Thandi’s natural foraging behaviours helped her to put on the weight she needed for a new chapter of her life. When Thandi reached the 6kg mark, we were finally able to release her back into the wild where she belongs!


A pangolin release isn’t a particularly dramatic occasion, but it’s certainly a momentous step in Thandi’s life! We don’t reveal release sites for security reasons, but it’s a protected area that’s seen enormous success with anti-poaching measures in recent years. 

Pangolins are notoriously difficult to care for and she came to us with many health issues – but she now has a second chance at a life in the wild.

Post-release monitoring

We were so delighted to see Thandi truly begin her wild life – and humbled to have witnessed her transformation. Here’s the first field report from our post-release monitoring team:

Time: 17:55
Weight: 6.65kg

We found her already awake. We left the camera trap on the den site that she has been using for the past few days – hopefully it will manage to capture some good images over the coming days.

Our post-release monitoring is an extension of our rehabilitation work – ensuring that released pangolins like Thandi settle safely back into the wild.

Back to the wild

We continued to keep an eye on Thandi and saw that she was effectively relying on her own wild behaviours to survive. We still occasionally checked her weight (a good indicator of her general health) and before long she was weighing in at over 9kg – more than double what she was when she came to us! 

When we found her foraging – wonderful to see – she curled into a ball when touched. This was good news: not only was Thandi continuing to put on weight, but she was becoming fearful of human contact, signalling her transition to a truly wild pangolin. 

We were also really pleased to see that Thandi was starting to build a home range. Her tracking device showed us how she was staying within a tight area she can call her own – and clearly able to find enough food there to thrive.

A new chapter

With a clear home range and excellent weight gain, we were confident in Thandi’s ability to succeed in the wild on her own. Thanks to this amazing progress, we were able to remove her tracking units and leave Thandi to her truly wild life.

As with all the rescued pangolins we’re able to rehabilitate and release, it’s so rewarding to see the transition from the pangolin who came to us weak and in desperately poor health to this amazing little creature thriving out in the wild again, where she belongs.