On Thursday morning I could see for the first time the newly born pangolin baby on the footage of the night camera. But I could hardly recognize only a part of the head and at a one point also the long curved claws of the left front leg. Fortunately, one hour later I could see it for a second with my own eyes. It was an amazing sight! If pangolins are referred to as living cones, it is a bit of exaggeration. However, in a case of a newly born baby it is an absolutely accurate description. A living spruce cone: by size and appearance.
We really needed to hear good news like this, less than a week after the elephant female Amalee succumbed to a herpesvirus infection. The first pangolin baby in Europe was born in Prague Zoo! Of course, it is still too early to celebrate – the first days after birth may be critical for the baby, but it is very well developed, its birth weight is above average, it seems to drink mother’s milk, and its mother Run Hou Tang has already successfully bred one young.
After a huge disappointment, huge joy is within reach. I have been wishing to get pangolins for a very long time. They are not only highly remarkable, but also highly endangered, and both in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia we are trying to contribute to their conservation. Therefore, it seemed to me right and logical to have their “ambassador” in Prague. However, it was difficult to get pangolins and at the same time to know that we would be able to breed them successfully. Many pangolins had already been brought to many zoological gardens (including our own), but none of them had survived for long. Only recently has the methodology of their breeding been mastered, particularly the preparation of the substitute food. Taipei Zoo has been in the forefront of this effort, and just from there we got last year in April the breeding couple of Chinese pangolins, thanks to the negotiation of the Prague Mayor, Zdeněk Hřib. So, we became the second zoo in Europe where a visitor can see these unique animals.
Some time ago I described here what the preparations for the arrival of the pangolins entailed, and how the keeper David Vala prepared the substitute food for them. What I think I didn’t write about, was that already in mid-June our pangolins started mating and the female became pregnant. David had a special little bar made for her and taught her to lean on it with her front legs, so she could undergo an ultrasound examination. After four months her pregnancy was confirmed. After another two months, in mid-December, we became very nervous. When will the baby be born? It could be the next day or in the middle of February. It happened after a seven-and-half-month-long pregnancy, on Thursday, 2 February before 4 am.
Please keep your fingers crossed for us, so we will succeed to breed this living spruce cone!
Author: Miroslav Bobek, Director of Prague ZOO