Due to their specialised diet of ants and termites, pangolins are notoriously difficult to care for. At first, our keepers tried to emulate the anteater diet – a porridge made from fruits, meat and mealworms. As pangolins have no teeth, the tendons had to be removed from the meat before it was blended. Later, crude fibre in the form of ground-up termite mounds was added. Most recently, the keepers have substituted the meat with ant eggs. Our pangolins are positively lapping this up.
One of the first things our pangolin keepers look out for in the morning is poop. Healthy pangolins produce poop that is blackish and tubular. Eight out of our 10 pangolins have the bizarre habit of pooping in their water dishes, so extra dishes are provided for them. Panjang, who was named for his long tail (‘panjang’ means ‘long’ in Malay), is one of them. Unfortunately, he sometimes misses the dish target due to the length of his tail!
This strange business might have to do with the fact that the pangolin is a confident swimmer. Not only does it swim well, it can scoot up a tree with surprising speed. Its prehensile tail works like a fifth limb. The bottom tip of the tail is naked and helps it maintain its grip around branches and tree trunks, which is why our keepers are ever-watchful when taking them out on walks. If they decide to scale a tree, it would be tough trying to get them to come down.
I joined in 2008 as a junior keeper. I was here for a year before I left Singapore to study Zoology. During my holidays, I worked part-time whenever I was back. I returned full-time in 2013 as a Junior Animal Management Officer (AMO). I now lead a team taking care of 23 species, including the Sunda pangolin, at Fishing Cat Trail.
While I still work directly with the animals, I also handle more paperwork and administration. I translate scientific research into something useful and more palatable for the layman. Our work involves many aspects such as exhibit design, animal welfare and behaviour as well as veterinary skills. It's now a knowledge-based job, no longer just clean and feed.
Do biology or life sciences, or go overseas to study zoology. Knowledge of biochemistry is a must. You can join the volunteer programme to find out if you really like animals and can put up with the drudgery of cleaning poop. Know that you can’t go into this line for the money, it’s for the sake of the animals.
Sham, Senior Veterinary Nurse, and Dr. Charlene Yeong, Conservation and Wildlife Health Manager, attending to a rescued pangolin after an operation to fix a broken right femur.
The pangolin is now recuperating at our animal hospital. He is eating and even beginning to put some weight on the injured leg.