Home News Pangolins Sparking Change: Flipping the switch on electric fences to save pangolins.

Sparking Change: Flipping the switch on electric fences to save pangolins.

Pangolins are one of our core species here at David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF). Despite being one of the most gentle, unassuming, and harmless animals on the planet (unless you’re a termite), their survival is threatened on several fronts. Already the most trafficked mammal in the world, they also face barriers and challenges from habitat encroachment and human disturbance. And one of the biggest of those threats comes in the form of electric fences.

Jackson is a landowner in Kenya – where several species of pangolins are found in a shrinking range of specialist habitat. And whereas we might think a solution might be as simple as not using electric fences in sensitive areas, for people like Jackson, it’s not that straightforward.

Jackson and another community member with Wilson of The Pangolin Project. Image Credit: The Pangolin Project.

Living alongside pangolins is one thing. But these landowners and farmers have legitimate reasons to want to fence in their cattle beyond just demarcating their borders. Not all wildlife is as easy to abide with as pangolins are, as Jackson explains.

I was… thinking about fencing some of the land… for grazing purposes and to keep dangerous wildlife away from my cattle, especially from the newborn calves.”

Wilson is a ‘guardian’ for our partners on the ground, The Pangolin Project, and he began visiting Jackson’s property in 2022 as part of their community engagement work. The idea was to pre-empt the use of electric fences on the land.

But we didn’t need to resort to shock tactics to facilitate change in the minds of landowners: we just needed to talk to them. And maybe create a bit of a ‘buzz’ about pangolins too. (Okay, we’ll stop now). And that’s exactly what Wilson did. Over the course of a few visits, he informed Jackson about the species of pangolin in the area, why it was important to conserve them, and most importantly – that they were harmless to both humans and cattle.

However, that wasn’t quite enough to convince Jackson that a fence wasn’t needed.

I couldn’t not fence part of the area. I need to protect my household from dangerous wildlife and intruders.”

What was needed was a compromise. Luckily, Wilson had informed Jackson of the specific threat that electric fences represented to pangolins. The real ‘danger zone’ was the bottom two strands of wire. This was where pangolins would make contact with the fence, get shocked, and then react with the only defensive strategy in their arsenal – to roll up into a ball. Whereas their scales would usually keep them safe, in this case, it is often their death knell. The scales often catch onto the live wires and, remaining rolled up, the pangolins can continue to be shocked – until they cook in their own skins and die.

Image Credit: The Pangolin Project.

So, when Wilson returned to Jackson’s property in June 2023, it was with some apprehension. The fence had been installed and the electricity turned on. But there was a surprise in store for Wilson, rather than a shock. Following the advice he had passed on, Jackson had only electrified the fence from the third wire up. Wilson asked him what made him change his mind.

I am involved in conservation myself and I started thinking about the information (Wilson) had given me.”

Jackson has agreed for part of his land to be part of a wildlife conservancy, hence his comment about being involved in conservation. But his actions are also a prime example that community engagement works and is pivotal in protecting pangolins. It also shows that human-wildlife coexistence is not just possible, but mutually beneficial. And we’re happy to report that with five wires out of seven still electrified, Jackson has had no issues with either predation or intruders.

Our ‘Scale of Extinction’ appeal is now live and right now, you can have double the impact by donating before 5 December – as the amount you give will be matched £ for £! So, £25 becomes £50, £50 becomes £100… you get the picture. Funds will be matched up to a total of £15,000 – meaning an incredible £30,000 going to safeguard the future of pangolins in the wild.

Not only does that mean we’ll be able to work with more landowners like Jackson, but we’ll also continue to fight the illegal wildlife trade and protect pangolins through our projects on-the-ground in both Africa and Asia. It will enable us to help fund the removal of electric fences or increase their height to a safe level in Kenya. It will support the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of pangolins whether injured in the wild or repatriated from the illegal wildlife trade. Or it could help fund tracking devices that enable safe monitoring and future research into the lives of these enigmatic yet threatened animals. But we can’t do any of it without your help. So, please give today if you can.


Do we care about pangolins as much as you do? Guilty as… charged!

Image Credit: Mark Boyd.

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Andrew White
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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