NEW VET CLINIC RECEIVES ITS FIRST PATIENTS

 
Our staff weren’t the only ones eager to try out our new vet clinic at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre last month. As our team was in the middle of moving furniture and equipment into the new facility – constructed with support from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Olsen Animal Trust – a pangolin arrived needing urgent medical attention.
 
The animal was brought to us by Malawian law enforcement authorities and is the 20th pangolin our team has cared for this year. Pangolins are now threatened with extinction as a result of trafficking. Research estimates that global populations have declined by 80% in the last 20 years. Pangolin numbers are being decimated to satisfy demand in Asia, where their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are prized in traditional medicine – despite there being no scientific evidence for their efficacy.w

Pangolins that have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade often arrive at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in very poor physical condition, so it was essential that our team examined the animal quickly. Although most of the medical supplies had already been moved into the clinic, the examination table was still in the old room, located about half a kilometre away. Our Centre Veterinarian Dr. Charlotte Bentley gave the pangolin water and observed it moving on the floor while other members of the team swiftly retrieved the table. Once it was in place she was able to conduct a thorough examination.

Dr. Bentley said: “Eve the pangolin was very keen to be the first patient into the clinic – not even allowing us to unpack our boxes first! Unfortunately she is one of many pangolins that have required veterinary treatment this year. She was extremely underweight and dehydrated on arrival, as well as showing signs of respiratory illness. Although her timing wasn’t ideal, we deal with a large number of emergencies both in the clinic and in the field – so our team is used to thinking on their feet when it comes to wildlife! We managed to quickly provide Eve with the fluids and supportive care she required, and resolve her dehydration and respiratory signs. She’s now undergoing rehabilitation and corrective nutrition with our pangolin team at a field site and we hope she will continue to improve.”

Pangolin intakes have been on the rise for the past three years.

Pangolin intakes to Lilongwe Wildlife Centre have been on the rise for the past three years, so it’s no surprise that the following morning, the second patient in our new vet clinic was another pangolin that had been confiscated from the wildlife trade. This was a juvenile male that has since been named Thoko. Unfortunately, Thoko came in with a severe injury to his tail, likely due to either a snare or being hung by his tail using very tight rope. The wound was infected and was so deep it even cut through muscle. Injuries like this often become life threatening in pangolins and this patient remains in critical care. However, our team will continue to provide extensive veterinary care to give him every chance of making a full recovery.

Given the steady increase in pangolin intakes to Lilongwe Wildlife Centre over the last few years (with just one in 2018 to 21 so far in 2021) we have developed a specialist programme providing dedicated support for these vulnerable mammals. Pangolin rescue and rehabilitation is highly specialised work, given that these animals are often extremely compromised on arrival, highly prone to stress and therefore difficult to care for in captivity. As a result, we’ve introduced new processes and projects related to first responder training, pangolin health assessments, medicine inventories, diet analysis, rehabilitation techniques, post-release tracking and expert witness training for criminal cases.

 

We are hugely grateful to our donors IFAW and the Olsen Animal Trust for funding the construction of our new animal care facility and vet clinic. Over the last few years, increasing numbers of patients, equipment and students have meant we had begun to outgrow our old facility. Our new building has a veterinary clinic, purpose-built lab, multiple enclosures including a warming room for small or intensive care patients, a conference room and a large central courtyard. This means we will be able to continue to provide excellent care for Malawi’s wildlife and teaching for both national and international students interested in conservation medicine. Although the vet clinic is now operational, other parts of the building are still being finalised.