Lily the Pangolin

Lily the Pangolin

The story of the enigmatic Lily, a Temminck's ground pangolin. Poached twice and still a survivor! By Debbie English.

Lily’s ordeal started when she was taken out of her natural environment by ruthless poachers in September 2020.  For days she was kept in captivity with no food or water lying in her own urine and faeces. She was cold and terrified! Luckily, her ordeal ended when the poachers were caught, and she was confiscated and brought in for emergency stabilization and treatment.  Not only was she in an extremely compromised state (emaciated, dehydrated, and traumatized) but carrying a tiny new life inside her. Lily was pregnant!  This would mean complicated recovery, but after a lengthy period of extremely intensive treatment in hospital and a long and grueling rehabilitation, Lily was finally released back into the wild. During this time though, we suspect she had miscarried, but would be healthy enough to be a wild and free pangolin again.  She would be safe. Usually, the story ends here, however on 26th of September we got information that a pangolin had been poached… not just any pangolin but Lily. Lily had been poached, again!

She was found during an anti-poaching “sting” operation whereby she was confiscated from the poachers. All parties that were involved in her previous rehabilitation were absolutely devastated! This is when Emma, the co-founder and director of Umoya Khulula Rehabilitation Centre, brought Lily to me for immediate veterinary treatment. When Emma got out of her vehicle, we saw each other and realized the magnitude of the situation and that poor Lily was back. The emotions and absolute devastation were too much to control, and we both broke down a bit.  It was soon after this that we realized we have to be strong for Lily and we need to start doing what is necessary to ensure her survival…

I never believe what poachers say when giving statements on these animals and the conditions of captivity, but they said they had kept her in a rucksack for about 12 days before being caught.  I believed them somewhat because the pangolin I saw in front of me, the pangolin that was once feisty as hell, was now weak, fragile, dehydrated, absolutely emaciated and traumatized beyond human comprehension.

Once again Lily was hospitalized and treated aggressively for pneumonia, severe dehydration, malnutrition. To our surprise, she was also she was carrying another little fetus I Lily was pregnant! After a few very stressful days, Lily started perking up and after regaining enough strength, she started walking and foraging for her own food.  She was then transferred to Emma for rehabilitation.  A few days later she collapsed in the field and after rushing her back to me she was diagnosed with clinical Babesiosis (biliary).  Most healthy pangolins are carriers of this tick-borne blood parasite and very seldom show any signs of clinical disease themselves.  However, Lily’s immune system and whole body was so severely compromised that she had no defense mechanisms to fight off any further ailments.  She was treated with numerous drugs as she proved to be resistant to most of the drugs used to treat babesiosis. She was so anemic that she was at risk of was at risk of dying due to organ failure, so we had to resort to giving her blood transfusions… Luckily after literally blood, sweat and tears she seemed to have recovered.  Unfortunately, this joy was short-lived as she started deteriorating again.  She had now developed Immune Mediated Haemolytic Anemia – an auto-immune disease where the body attacks its own red blood cells.  After many different approaches and unconventional treatment methods, she slowly started recovering.

This was not where the struggle ends… I came in to treat her on a quiet Sunday morning and did a routine ultrasound examination to check that the fetus was still healthy.  Sadly, in front of me, I had a very still image of this tiny little pangolin fetus.  The scan showed no movement and I immediately started changing settings and tried to scan again as if I had made some mistake.  Nothing changed… there was no heartbeat anymore.  I was devastated! Sadly, Lily had enough left in her to only fight for one life… her own.  One is always torn between finding a balance of interfering and letting nature take its course but with the risks of uterine infections, amongst others, I had to intervene.  The first induction in a pangolin in South Africa was performed and after a long struggle Lily eventually expelled the fetus and could focus on healing from this tremendous loss and huge trauma. These are just a few of the challenges that we faced with Lily on long journey to where we are now.  Lily has been in between hospitalization and rehabilitation since September 2021 and is currently still in rehabilitation, almost ready to start the slow release process.   

The journey has been extremely tough – mentally, physically, emotionally and financially but this little girl is definitely worth all of this and more.  Lily deserves a chance to be wild and free and that is what we will give her!

I would like to express my immense gratitude to for all the involvement over the last 7-8 months.  Thank you for the incredible support that you have shown and the financial contributions that have made numerous treatment and rehabilitation procedures possible.  Without this assistance we would not have been able to get this far.  All the love and care from all the people and organizations involved in Lily’s journey has definitely carried us through the tough times and helped us get to where we are now.

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