There are four species of pangolin in Africa, the African white-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin, ground pangolin and black-bellied pangolin. Picture: Louis Mornaud/Unsplash
There are four species of pangolin in Africa, the African white-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin, ground pangolin and black-bellied pangolin. Picture: Louis Mornaud/Unsplash

WATCH: Pangolin-friendly electric fencing to reduce accidental deaths

By Dominic Naidoo Time of article published Dec 10, 2021

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Pangolins are said to be the most trafficked animal in the world. Its scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, despite there being no medical benefit for their use, while its meat is considered a delicacy in some countries.

Although intense widespread poaching of the pangolin has seen a dramatic decrease in numbers in both Africa and Asia, other threats are facing this critically endangered species, one of which may be unique to South Africa, electric fencing.

One of the biggest of these threats facing pangolins in southern Africa is their accidental electrocution on electrified farm and game reserve fences.

Studies have found that as many as a thousand pangolins may be killed on these fences every year in South Africa alone, most likely overshadowing the illegal wildlife trade as a threat to pangolins in the region.

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There are four species of pangolin in Africa, the African white-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin, ground pangolin and black-bellied pangolin.

Sometimes called scaly anteaters, they are the only mammals in the world to be covered in protective scales which are made of keratin, the same material found in human fingernails and hair.

Pangolins lapup ants and termites with their long sticky tongues. The giant pangolin, found in the rainforests and grasslands of equatorial Africa, is the biggest, measuring up to 1.8m long and weighing up to 45 kilograms.

Electrified fences are prevalent on game reserves, private game farms, nature reserves and commercial livestock farms across southern Africa.

A popular choice for the control of animal movement, they ensure livestock and wildlife stay in the confines of the farm and unwanted predators and people are kept out. While economical and effective, electrified fences also result in the electrocution of non-target species, such as pangolins, large birds of prey, tortoises, snakes, lizards and small antelope.

According to local pangolin non-profit, SavePangolins, “the Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, native to South Africa, is bipedal and often walks on its two hind legs with its front legs and tail held above the ground. If they come into contact with electric fencing, the pangolin’s defence mechanism is to roll into a ball, wrapping around the live wire, which often leads to death.”

Pangolin.Africa, in collaboration with Tikki Hywood Foundation, the Kalahari Wildlife Project and Staffix, funded by Save Pangolins, is working toward the implementation of a groundbreaking new system of electrical fencing that would prevent accidental electrocution of pangolins and other wildlife. The project includes various study sites and habitats around South Africa where they will be testing and

monitoring the new fencing technology for a minimum of 12 months while recording pangolin and other animal behaviour to ensure its effectiveness.

According to Pangolin.Africa, “the initial pilot phase of the project involves developing, testing and implementing the proposed solution by fitting existing electrified fences with a new energizer design.

We are also looking at a second project phase which will include some basic fence design modifications.”

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