Researchers at Chester Zoo have captured “momentous” footage of rare giant pangolins, sometimes known as scaly anteaters for their protective armour, revealing new insights into the secretive nocturnal species only found in equatorial Africa.
The footage includes clips of the creatures in their natural habitat, rooting around in the undergrowth of Uganda’s Ziwa sanctuary.
One segment shows a pangolin sitting on its powerful tail while grasping a tree with its claws and another appears to show a baby clinging to the back of an adult as it rummages through bushes.
“With no giant pangolins in zoos or safari parks anywhere in the world, all our conservation efforts must focus on saving them in the wild,” said Stuart Nixon, Chester Zoo’s Africa field programme and research lead.
“The race is on against criminal networks that only value dead pangolins, to save this species and protect them well into the future.”
The footage was captured by 70 motion-sensor trail cameras installed by the zoo at Uganda’s Ziwa sanctuary, in east Africa.
Pangolins are known for their overlapping protective scales, made from the same substance as finger nails, which cover their bodies
Somewhere between an anteater and an armadillo, they feed on termites and ants with their long tongues and can quickly roll into a ball to protect themselves.
The giant pangolins, which grow to nearly six feet long and weigh about five stone, are only found in the rainforests and grasslands of equatorial Africa.
Mr Nixon said: “The giant pangolin is a beautiful, mysterious and utterly fascinating species but studying them is extremely challenging.
“Being nocturnal, rare and very shy it’s only with new technologies such as high sensitivity trail cameras that we are able to learn more about how they live and interact with each other and their environment.”
Pangolins are the most illegally trafficked wildlife species in the world.
A record eight tonnes of pangolin scales were seized by customs officials in Hong Kong earlier in February, and officials in Uganda recently seized almost 500 kg of pangolin scales believed to have come from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Conservationists at Chester Zoo are working with Rhino Fund Uganda to collect information about the creatures and hope to fit tracking devices to better understand their behaviour.
Angela Genade, executive director of Rhino Fund Uganda, said: “The footage and images that the zoo’s conservationists are obtaining has opened a completely new world to RFU and its rangers about what a secure environment actually means to so many animals.”
Sam Mwandha, the executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, said: “These rare glimpses into the lives of giant pangolins are very exciting for those of us dedicated to protecting Uganda’s rich wildlife and challenges us to ensure that we protect and conserve this highly threatened species for future generations.”