Neil’s story begins not in a West African Forest, his natural home, but in a bustling bushmeat market near Lagos in Nigeria. His mother gave birth to him under the stress of captivity shortly before she ended up on someone’s plate. Neil would have been nursed by her for months, but instead he was left alone and starving, too small to be turned into a meal.
“Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal on earth, hunted for their scales and meat”
Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal on earth, hunted for their scales and meat, causing their numbers to dwindle rapidly in the wild. The slow reproduction rate of their population, with only one pangopup born per female pangolin per year, and the extreme difficulty of breeding them in captivity, makes their protection in the wild even more crucial. While their tough scales have protected them from most predators for some 80 million years, they were not designed to be targeted commercially by humans and they desperately require our help and protection to survive.
It’s a reality that is difficult to fathom for those who value these precious creatures and their important role in our ecosystem. As natural insectivores, pangolins help to keep plants and trees healthy and prevent potential over population of ants and termites.
Fortunately for Neil, Dr. Mark Ofua, a compassionate veterinarian and Wild Africa Fund consultant is on a mission to save endangered animals and he received the call for help. Without hesitation, he rushed to the market and rescued Neil from certain death. From that day on, Neil became a part of the St. Marks Animal Hospital family. Bottle-fed on formula and with Dr. Mark’s love and care, Neil thrived, despite the traumatic start to his life. He grew strong and healthy, and before long, he was ready to take on the world.
Because he was hand-reared, Neil had no fear of humans. While a stressed pangolin will instantly roll into a ball for protection, Neil preferred to hang out with people. This enabled him to play a unique role as a pangolin ambassador for his species.
Neil appeared on TV and radio shows, meeting famous people, and even starring in Nigeria’s first-ever children’s wildlife show. With his outgoing personality and endearing habits, including licking people’s ears with his foot long tongue, Neil captured the hearts of everyone he met and quickly became a celebrity pangolin as they learned about the plight of his species.
But finally when Neil was weaned off his milk and tucking into ants and termites he decided to retire from the limelight. With Dr. Mark’s guidance, Neil underwent rehabilitation, preparing him for his return to the wild. And then came the day when Neil was ready to take his final steps towards freedom.
In a protected forest, Neil was released back into the wild where he belongs. It was a moment of triumph, a testament to the power of love, and a beacon of hope for the future of endangered animals. As Neil scurried away into the undergrowth, leaving behind a pawprint in the hearts of everyone who had cared for him at St. Marks Animal Hospital, a wave of emotion washed over all who witnessed the event.
Happily when Dr. Mark was able to locate Neil again from his tracker he was already treating humans with suspicion and was back to being a wild pangolin as well as seeming very healthy.
Dr. Mark says, “For this animal that I have saved and released back into the wild; it’s the world to the animal.” Neil’s journey from the bushmeat market to a celebrity pangolin and finally to the wild is a story of hope, resilience, and the enduring power of love.