Sid the baby pangolin sucks down his special smoothie of termites and milk
As you know I'm not prone to cooing over cute but if I were this would be my number one squee: Sid, a baby pangolin. Most of you may have never heard of a pangolin before, and if you have you probably thought it was some sort of medieval musical instrument. But it is in fact an extremely shy anteater from Africa and Asia whose name comes from the Malay word 'pengulling' which means 'something that rolls up'. When under attack this walking pine cone curls himself into a tight ball, protecting his soft underbelly with his scaly razor-sharp armour.
I met Sid while filming my new series 'Freaks and Creeps' for National Geographic Wild. He was an inmate of the SanWild sanctuary in South Africa where he'd been recently rescued from poachers. In the last few year's pangolins have become a fashionable cure-all in Chinese medicine - a spurious practice that's fueling a massive illegal trade which has led to over 40,000 individuals of these highly endangered species being slaughtered in 2011 alone.
The closest I get to cooing over a cutie: Lucy and Louise fuss over little Sid
Fortunately Sid and his mother were rescued by Louise Joubert who promptly released them. But Sid's mom, no doubt suffering extreme stress, went on to reject her month old baby so now Louise is Sid's surrogate mom. Not being a pangolin herself, Louise has had a steep learning curve on how to care for these enigmatic creatures that's led to some highly inventive solutions. Her first mission was how to keep Sid calm and warm. She'd seen baby pangolins cling to their mom's back in the first few months of their life so Louise created a somewhat fluffier facsimile: a hot water bottle stuffed inside a teddy bear. Fortunately Sid immediately took to snuggling up against his toastie teddy and began to cheer upconsiderably.
This is what a happy baby pangolin looks like
Next step is what to feed him. Adult pangolins have no teeth but an extremely long tongue that's stickier than a cinema carpet which they use to hoover up thousands of termites every day. So for baby Sid, Louise headed to her kitchen where she conjured up a very special smoothie: milk with a sprinkling of termites whizzed up in the blender.
When I arrived for filming, Louise decided it was time to give Sid his first taste of live termite. We drove out into the bush and located a massive termite mound and it was my job to break it open and get the bugs. But termite mounds are tough as concrete, which goes to show how strong pangolin claws are, and in the process of trying to crack it open I smacked myself in the nose with the pick axe. Ouch. After considerable effort I managed to release a single termite but Sid was more interested in cuddling up on his teddy than eating it.
This is what a happy pangolin fan looks like, even after a fight with a pick axe
Louise tells me that a few months later Sid did catch and eat his first termite and is due to be released back into the wild later this year at a secret location. Fingers crossed he manages to stay hidden this time around as his species is in danger of becoming extinct in the next ten years if the poaching doesn't stop. The world would be a poorer place without this magical creature that looks more like an extra from Star Wars than a mammal from the African Bush.
From Louise's sofa....
...to the wild. Sid has had a most peculiar journey for a pangolin
Meet Sid in 'Freaks and Creeps: The Freaky Five' on Tuesday July 31st at 10pm and repeated on Saturday August 4th at 10pm, Monday 6th at 10pm, Tuesday 7th at 1pm and Saturday 11th at 10pm on National Geographic Wild