Pangolin in a garden shop

Two Chinese pangolins arrived one after the other to Prague Zoo in the 1980s. So, the picture from that time may or may not show the individual, which fled to the garden shop. Photo Vladimír Motyčka, Prague Zoo

When a pangolin escaped from Prague Zoo in the 1950s, it was reportedly killed by security guards of a government villa and subsequently declared to be an “infected crocodile”. At least that is how the story goes.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the real story. Maybe some historian will come up with something sometime. But I can shed light on another escape of a pangolin, which happened in 1980s. This pangolin is said to have lived in a burrow in a garden shop and fed on ants. After it was captured, it was in excellent condition. This story is true, at least when it comes to the garden shop. In short, I will try to put together the memories of Petr Šulc and Mr. and Mrs. Masopust, and information from the press of the time.

On Sunday June 23, 1985, a Chinese pangolin, originating from Vietnam, arrived at Prague Zoo. It was placed in a quarantine near todays Africa up Close, but it didn’t stay there for long. It tore up the cage and ran away. It didn’t succeed the first time – dr. Šír caught it and returned back – but on its second attempt it succeeded.

At that time, it was an event, which was even reported on by the popular magazine Dikobraz – in the form of a poem by the national artist Miroslav Florian:

A pangolin ran away from the Zoo. Praguers,

Triple-lock yourself in, to prevent the worst from happening!

That, I think, is more than enough as an illustration.

Just how long the pangolin was missing became a subject of speculations as time passed. Less credible witnesses speak of half a year, the more reliable of three weeks. However, when I looked into the then editions of Večerní Praha, I could read in the issue of Wednesday July 10, 1985, that the pangolin had been caught the previous day, having been on the run since “last Sunday”. News from Večerní Praha from July 4 then confirmed that it was Sunday June 30. Therefore, the pangolin was missing for nine days.

It was found in the garden shop, located in a place opposite to today’s service entrance to the Zoo, on the corner of the streets K Bohnicím and Pod Hrachovkou. The pangolin was digging in the freshly prepared substrate there. As the above-mentioned Večerní Praha reported, “it dug a two metres long burrow, padded it with pulp of inexplicable origin, fed on ants and apparently didn’t lack anything. The gardeners discovered it yesterday, so the keeper J. Masopust came to get him.” Well, came to get him… He is said to have spent hours digging it out.

Unfortunately, this pangolin only lived until November 20, 1985. At that time pangolins were arriving to zoos in poor condition and there was no experience with their maintenance. However, in the zoo legend, which describes how it enjoyed living in the garden shop for weeks, this pangolin survives to this day.