Pangolert using citizen science to save pangolins


Pangolins are notoriously shy and rarely seen in the wild. This is why Pangolin.Africa, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the survival of the African pangolin, started Pangolert, a dedicated WhatsApp line to encourage citizen scientist recordings of pangolins for research purposes.

Very little information is available regarding population numbers and distribution of all four species of African pangolins. This data is crucial for the conservation of pangolin species.

Launched in August 2018, Pangolert has so far received 30 live and historical sightings of this aloof scaly anteater. “We anticipate seeing a marked increase in this figure as our engagement with the tourism industry increases,” explains Catherine Ritchie of Pangolin.Africa. “The tourism industry provides the perfect platform for travellers in Africa to get involved in conservation efforts and citizen science is an excellent tool to facilitate this participation.”

It is believed a pangolin is taken from the wild every five minutes, bound for Asia or African traditional medicine markets. “Through the Pangolert campaign we have also been able to report potential wildlife traders to the African Pangolin Working Group who work with law enforcement agents to take necessary action,” says Ritchie.

Image by John Starr

As pangolins are mainly nocturnal, they are most likely to be seen at night, when they come out of their burrows to feed. However, the arboreal black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), found in the tropical rainforests of Central and West Africa, is diurnal. The Temminck’s ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) is probably the most widespread in Africa – and therefore most commonly seen. The white-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) is endemic to Central and West Africa, while the giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) is the largest of the four species and the most elusive.

Image by PangolinAfrica

How to record your pangolin sightings on Pangolert 

  1. Save the Pangolert number on your phone: +27 72 726 4654 and make sure you have WhatsApp installed.
  2. If you are lucky enough to see a pangolin, immediately take a picture and send it to the Pangolert number.
  3. In WhatsApp, click on the plus sign at the bottom of the message screen, select ‘Location’ and send this too.
  4. No signal? No problem! The sighting will be transmitted once you are reconnected to the internet.
  5. The number can be used to report pangolins being trafficked or illegally sold.
  6. You can also record any past wild sightings by registering online.

Information received via the Pangolert WhatsApp tool is communicated directly and exclusively with Pangolin.Africa and their research partners.

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