In Namibia, protecting pangolins with traditional knowledge and modern technology

Xuma using a tracking device in the trees


≠oma Sao Xuma treks across the dry, scrubby terrain, his gaze dancing between the horizon and the radio telemetry antenna he’s holding. In time, he halts and gestures to several footprints and tail drags in the sand—imprints so faint only well-trained eyes could’ve discerned them—made by a pangolin as it lumbered by the previous night.

Pangolins are the most trafficked animal in the world due to rising demand for their scales, body parts, and meat, mostly for use in traditional medicines. In Namibia, nearly 500 were confiscated between 2015 and 2021. But because the shy, burrowing mammals are solitary and nocturnal, they’re difficult to find—and therefore to study and protect.

Thankfully, ≠oma Sao Xuma is an expert pangolin tracker. As the head ranger of the Pangolin Conservation and Research Foundation (PCRF) and one of the San people—among the world’s oldest surviving cultures—he maintains a deep connection to his ancestral land and is skilled at locating wildlife, an art that’s been passed down in his community for thousands of years.

With support from WWF, PCRF works with San trackers like ≠oma Sao Xuma to find and radio tag pangolins, enabling researchers to monitor and better understand the animals’ movements. By combining traditional skills and knowledge with modern tools like GPS, radio telemetry, and camera traps, trackers also gather data about diets, behaviors, and habitats—information that’s vital to protecting pangolins from extinction.

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