Game Warden

The Pangolin Poaching Crisis: Lisa Hywood, The Tikki Hywood Trust, Zimbabwe

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Lisa Hywood established the Tikki Hywood Trust in Zimbabwe in 1994 as a wildlife orientated not for profit organization. Targeting smaller and lesser known endangered animals, the Trust was established to address gaps in conservation left by the immense focus on larger and more charismatic wildlife. Such an enigma is the Pangolin, now a priority species for the Trust. From broad spectrum beginnings which involved translocation of elephants and rescue and rearing orphaned animals, to more specific conservation actions of addressing laws that protect wildlife and the environment, the Trust has developed a multifaceted approach to the preservation of our global heritage. Lisa Hywood has been at the helm since inception in the capacity of Founder and CEO.




“Tikki Hywood was my dad. A man who inspired me, someone who I not only admired but looked up to and wanted to be like one day. My dad made me smile; he loved life and what nature freely offered to each and everyone of us. He was my hero. So it was only right that after his death, I did something to honour his memory and to make him smile! That was to establish the Tikki Hywood Trust.”


To find out more about the work of the Tikki Hywood Trust, visit the website at




Why has it taken so long for awareness of the pangolin’s conservation plight to reach mainstream media?


Unlike your charismatic species, such as the rhino, elephant, tiger together with the cheetah, the pangolin sits in a unique niche all on its own. Firstly they are rather small, covered in scales, (so most people perceive them as reptiles), and they are mainly nocturnal so not easily seen. The pangolin has not been romanticized in novels or films and therefore most people are ignorant in the role that these truly amazing animals have to play in our ecosystem.




When one thinks of TCM, rhino horn comes to mind and there is documented evidence of its use going back centuries. What is the history of pangolin body parts in TCM and how come the poaching of it in Africa has accelerated recently?


There are eight species of pangolin four in Asia and four in Africa. The Asian species have been so severely poached over the past decade that now those numbers cannot supply the Asian demand and so the harvest grounds for pangolin have turned to Africa. With multiple trade agreements and investment coming into Africa from Asia, so to are the new cultures and TCM beliefs, which of course will affect all our African species including the pangolin. Pangolin TCM like with the rhino horn has been around for centuries in Asia and hence why it is so difficult to try and reduce the already existing demand.


How concerned are you that pangolin is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and how is this leading to increasing pressure on its numbers?


It is a huge concern, as the socio-economics of Asia increase so to it seems does the demand on pangolin cuisine. Pangolin soup is considered a delicacy when finalizing a deal – “kind of sign on the dotted line and lets eat a pangolin!” These pangolin, are kept alive in cages and when ordered wheeled out to the customer prior to having his or her neck slit. Barbaric - cannot or does not even describe this activity.


What is being done in Vietnam and China to engage consumers? To engage political support? One sees in social media the efforts with regard to elephant ivory and rhino horn, but what about the smuggling of pangolins for consumption and their scales for use in TCM?


There are groups working in Vietnam and China in the fight to reduce demand, however as we know education takes generations and what might be the sad fact right now is we do not have this length of time to solve the issues facing pangolin. In China a law was passed stating that it was illegal to eat endangered wildlife. Pangolin are one of these species sited in this law, which carries a 10 year jail term if found guilty. Yet since the law was passed I am unaware of even one offender having been arrested. So to China I say – “in order for the law to serve as a deterrent, one has to enforce it.”


One thinks of the huge sums of money involved with rhino horn, what are the monetary sums involved with pangolins? How are pangolins smuggled out of the country and what efforts to stop and search are made at border points, ports of egress etc?


The value of pangolin, are up there with rhino horn – sad thing is that no one knows this except the criminals. Due to the ease of being able to capture pangolin, poachers can transport pangolin readily from country to country. Pangolin are smuggled on buses, in suitcases and cargo trucks. As of yet, all of the 8 species of pangolin are only listed on CITES Appendix II, therefore trade is still allowed and this is something we need to address and quickly. There is now a CITES agenda which does include the 8 species of pangolin and here’s hoping that by elevating the pangolin to an Appendix I listing not only will it stop all trade and therefore make monitoring the illegal trade slightly easier, but it will bring the plight of these animals into the light along side of the rhino and the elephant.


Like the rhino horn, the use of pangolin in Vietnam is being linked to those with wealth willing to eat or use them as a demonstration as wealth and status, (source,, QUOTE, “The problem, Nguyen complained, was not Vietnam's poor and uneducated, but its wealthy elite - the senior government officials and the wealthy businessmen who ordered pangolin to flaunt their status or to celebrate a deal.” How can you ever hope to engage these people when the rarer something becomes, the more value it has to them? Likewise, how worried are you that a growing and more affluent middle class may seek to emulate them? If they don’t care about its conservation status, what hope is there of stopping the trade?


Extremely worried and the only area which might be working in our favor here is that the elite are educated and will always want to save face. Should the Governments, Authorities and the youth of these countries stand up and make enough noise our hope is that those wealthy business men will also wake up and be forced to listen to the law.




When, how and why did the trust begin focusing on the Pangolin?


The Tikki Hywood Trust received the first pangolin in 1994. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. A pangolin is like no other mammal – there are no books to read or information which has been past down through the ages as to how best to take care of this species. There in front of me was a sack and in a tightly rolled up ball was a pangolin. The stench that came from the sack was overwhelming, I opened the sack only to see the most beautiful eye staring back at me – terror was the first emotion I detected but besides that there was great wisdom I sensed and this only made me even more nervous. It was that single moment, that look that made me realize we have to do more for this animal and how can we be in 1994 and know almost nothing about how to care and save this animal. Over the past 20 years we have been involved with all aspects of the pangolin from rescue, rehabilitation and release together with working with our Authorities on improving the law involving the pangolin together with the enforcement of the law. We have become a voice for this otherwise silent, magical and prehistoric species around the globe.


Why aren’t more NGOs involved in the Pangolin's conservation? One sees a multitude of organisations raising awareness and money for rhinos, elephants, lions etc., but which are the NGOs, including your own, focusing on the pangolin?


I don’t know and cannot answer for other NGO’s and or groups – maybe the pangolin at this point is not sexy enough! Maybe size maybe ignorance – either way the Tikki Hywood Trust believes that all animals are equally and as important as the next, that we are all intricately intertwined and should one species perish then it will have a catastrophic knock on affect to yet another species.


Please tell us about the African Pangolin Working Group.


The Tikki Hywood Trust is a co founding member of the APWG and one of the main aims behind this group was to engage with like minded people around Africa so that we could come together and put multiple resources and energy into saving this species. The APWG attempts to monitor and launch research, rehabilitation, law enforcement and community projects on African pangolins across multiple African states.




How easy is it to rehabilitate a rescued pangolin and release it back into the wild? What has been your success rate and what is the cost of doing so?


Due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of these mammals I can readily say this is no easy task. One of the main factors that affect a pangolin is stress and one can only imagine how much stress these animals will endure from being captured and transported from pillar to post for who knows how many days and weeks, prior to being rescued. All pangolin that come through our center are invariably dehydrated and very under weight. Many of the pangolin have also been wounded and due to the stress they have endured, succumb to terrible infections, which are difficult to fight. The time to rehabilitate pangolin, vary from one individual to another as does the cost. As with any rehabilitation the injuries that have been inflicted will also determine the cost required.


Rod Cassidy from Sangha Lodge in CAR has stated many times that local people also consume the pangolin: what affect has the illegal bush meat trade had on its numbers? What can be done to sensitize local communities to the conservation status of the pangolin, change their habits, when bush meat has always played a part in their diet?


In Central and West Africa the bushmeat trade in pangolin continues consuming large numbers of pangolin. The obvious first step is through education in trying to sensitize the local population as well as Government, to the value of these wild animals. The pangolin in CAR is fully protected under their wildlife laws and hence I believe that enforcement of these laws will have the most effect when trying to stop the illegal use of pangolin. How these African countries are resource strapped and until this can be addressed there will be very little done to assist species such as the pangolin.




How are you made aware of the pangolins’ plight in the area of the trust’s operation and what action do you take? How many times have you personally seen pangolins, whether dead or alive, for sale in bush meat markets and what do you do about it? How much are pangolins sold for in these markets? (Dead/alive?)


In Zimbabwe when a pangolin is confiscated it goes directly to or through our Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authorities. We are then notified and the pangolin should it be alive is handed over to our care for rehabilitation. We then work with the Authorities on the necessary charges and action required to prosecute the poachers. Once we have successfully rehabilitated the pangolin they are then released into designated areas around the country. Each pangolin is micro-chipped and funding dependent where ever possible we use a tracking device to monitor the pangolin once released. We have been involved with more than 64 pangolin cases over the past five years. Whenever we hear about a pangolin in any situation we follow up with the Authorities.


With rhinos, lions, elephants, cheetahs etc., there are estimated numbers, various counts and studies but what are the difficulties in trying to ascertain a reliable figure on the number of pangolins?


Currently there are no true figures of pangolin numbers worldwide! This is a huge concern as well as a problem, as how do you try and protect a species that you cannot even see? We are fighting a silent enemy and we do not know other than by trade figures how severe this issue is. When you are dealing with tons of pangolin confiscated in Asia and now from Africa, and you do know that the pangolin only gives birth to one young once a year – you can start to understand that this species cannot sustain these figures.


Aside from the poaching for bush meat and TCM, what are the other threats facing the pangolin? How are their movements affected by land subdivision and fencing? And talking of fencing, what is the impact of electric fencing on pangolin numbers and what can be done to mitigate loses caused by it?


Electric fences, which are used for game ranches, are one of the greatest threats to pangolin in South Africa and due to this there is now a fence that has been designed to try and allow the free movement of pangolin from one property to another in South Africa. Agriculture and poisoning is also a factor but obviously nothing as great as the illegal trade in this species. But lets not forget ignorance – I do believe that this too needs to be mentioned.


How seriously are government parastatals in Zimbabwe and other pangolin range state countries taking the threat and what are they doing on the ground?


All Authorities have taken the conservation of pangolin within Zimbabwe, extremely seriously and I believe the conviction outcomes speak for themselves. Currently Zimbabwe is the most proactive country in pangolin conservation addressing all aspects from education to law enforcement as well as Zimbabwe having the stiffest penalties for the illegal possession of pangolin which is 9 years in jail and USD 5000.00 fine. I believe that other African countries can indeed learn from the proactive approach Zimbabwe has had with pangolin conservation. At this point it is important to note that for the law to act as a deterrent then one it has to be enforced but secondly it would be made that much stronger if neighboring countries carried a similar penalty making the poacher understand that he cannot poach from the country whose law is weaker and get away with the offence. Once again I believe that from informant to arrest and arrest to conviction Zimbabwe has had very positive outcomes. This year alone, (2015), has seen Zimbabwe prosecuting 22 pangolin poachers to the mandatory sentence of 9 years in jail. These results speak for themselves. And there has been more focus in the national Press, such as this article, which focuses on how the trust is working with the government. This is a paper I co-authored re Zimbabwe and the stance that it has taken through our work for pangolin protection.


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For many people, to see a pangolin on safari represents a “bucket-list” sighting and yet still there are many who don’t know what it is. So, what are the different African species and where can they be found? If planning a safari with the aim of, (hopefully), spotting a pangolin, where should one go to be in with a reasonable chance?


The four species of pangolin in Africa are;


The Giant Ground Pangolin – Central to West Africa

The White- bellied Pangolin – Central to West Africa

The Black-bellied Pangolin – Central to West Africa

The Temminck’s Ground Pangolin – Southern and East Africa above 30degree latitude.


One must always remember that pangolin are nocturnal and hence hoping to see one during day light hours you are less likely – perhaps my advice would be to go on a night drive or a very early morning drive in the hopes of seeing a pangolin.


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How would a 25 dollar donation help the Tikki Hywood trust in its objectives to conserve the pangolin and how can one make a donation?


A USD 25 donation would go towards the rescue and rehabilitation of a pangolin in care. Should one wish to donate via credit card we have two facilities on our FACEBOOK page otherwise the bank details below:


USD Bank Details






Swift Code: SCBLUS33

Beneficiary Bank: Central Africa Building Society

Head Office

Northend Close, Northridge Park



Swift Code: CABSZWHA

Account Number : 3582-026441-001


Beneficiary Acc No.: 9016337893



Photo Credits: courtesy and copyright Tikki Hywood Trust, images 1 and 7, @@Wild Dogger, images 3 and 4, @@pault.



The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.

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This interview is a bit of an emotional roller coaster.


"This year alone, (2015), has seen Zimbabwe prosecuting 22 pangolin poachers to the mandatory sentence of 9 years in jail." Encouraging. Hope word spreads.

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It's fantastic to see the proactive work people like Lisa, and @@Rod Cassidy are doing to rehab pangolins - it's really a drop in the ocean when you see some of the reactive action that authorities are doing, for instance such as this seizure of dead pangolin's reported by this Chinese news media agency but every pangolin saved is a positive step: let's hope more organisations take up the fight.

When there is so much negative press about Zimbabwe and its governance, to see Lisa working so closely with authorities

All Authorities have taken the conservation of pangolin within Zimbabwe, extremely seriously and I believe the conviction outcomes speak for themselves. Currently Zimbabwe is the most proactive country in pangolin conservation addressing all aspects from education to law enforcement as well as Zimbabwe having the stiffest penalties for the illegal possession of pangolin which is 9 years in jail and USD 5000.00 fine. I believe that other African countries can indeed learn from the proactive approach Zimbabwe has had with pangolin conservation.

Is really great to read and this point needs much more coverage in the press. You see a lot more news from other countries in relation to ivory, rhino, lion conservation etc, but here Zim is taking the lead in the pangolin fight and for that they must be congratulated. So let's share the link to this interview via social media and promote the Zimbabwe conservation efforts.

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