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The pangolin holds the unfortunate title of the world’s most trafficked animal – they are hunted to supply a rampant illegal trade in their scales, meat, and body parts. Because of demand – mostly in Asia, where pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are believed to have medicinal qualities – all eight species of pangolins are threatened with extinction.
This includes the Temminck’s Ground Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), which is the widest-ranging of the four African pangolin species and the focus of this project. The biggest threat facing pangolins in southern Africa is not poaching, as it is in most other places, but accidental electrocution on electric fences. A previous study has estimated that as many as 1,200 pangolins are killed by electric fences in southern Africa every year, along with a myriad of other species that suffer the same fate.
These accidental electrocutions are placing a species that is already heavily threatened by illegal trafficking and habitat loss under even more threat; and yet of all the threats facing pangolins, modifying the electric fences is arguably the easiest to achieve and also has the potential to positively influence the local pangolin populations within a relatively short span of time.
This project aims to further develop and field-test a device that can be both retrofitted to existing electric fences and incorporated into the energizer designs to ensure that new fences are pangolin-friendly. Our goal is that this will eventually be incorporated into the standard design for electric fences in the regions of southern Africa where pangolins are found. The modifications to be added to existing electric fences have been identified through previous work, and prototypes have been developed with a qualified electrical engineer.
We will begin field-testing by selecting two adjoining sections of electric fence – the prototype device will be installed on one section, and the other section (the control) will be left as is. The habitat and geology of the site must be consistent to ensure that the results are comparable across the two sections.
The first two months of field-testing will be used to identify and implement any further design modifications that may be required; after this, we will leave the components to run for at least six months to ensure we have sufficient data. Following that period of data collection and any subsequent final design tweaks, we will have the device produced for retro-fitting on existing electric fences.
We will also engage with local fencing companies and local/national conservation authorities to have the new components a) incorporated into energizer designs and b) included in provincial and national fencing norms and standards.
Funding from the Footprints Network will go towards:
This project involves working closely with the farming communities in both the Northern Cape and Limpopo Provinces of South Africa, which will be the focal areas for our data collection. We have the buy-in from the local farmers in these regions, many of whom have expressed grave concern over the number of animals that are killed by electrified fences on their farms.
They have repeatedly inquired as to the existence of feasible mitigation measures, and with this project, we hope to finally have a solution to offer them. Going forward, we will also be engaging with people in multiple pangolin range states across Africa.
In just ten years, more than one million pangolins have been poached and traded illegally at the international level, which makes them the most trafficked wild mammals in the world. Today, all eight species of pangolins are prohibited from all international commercial trade, but these protections will not stop the pangolin crisis alone. Much more work needs to be done to stop the killing, trafficking, and demand for pangolins for the species to recover.
Southern Africa has historically been a stronghold for pangolins because of the high levels of protection and law enforcement focused on them in this region. But as the crisis for this species continues to grow, it becomes that much more important to protect individual animals from other threats as well. To be able to prevent the accidental deaths from electrocution of as many as 1,200 pangolins per year is truly significant to a species that is on the brink of extinction.