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L.A. Zoo's Young Pangolin Dies; He Had Thrived Until Recently

October 07, 2005|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

After nine months of coddling and supervision, an infant African pangolin adopted by the Los Angeles Zoo died Sunday evening after several weeks of illness, the zoo announced Thursday.

The rare, scaly anteater had flourished, growing from palm-size to 2 feet in length, until it began to show signs of illness four weeks ago, according to Jeff Holland, curator of mammals. A veterinarian and night keeper were with the animal, named Mayeye, when it died.

"We're all still reeling," said Duffy Wade, a principal animal keeper who was among those who spent time with the pangolin during his stay at the zoo. "He was such a special little animal."

The pangolin was estimated to be 12 to 14 months old.

It is believed that only two zoos in the world have a pangolin, and few have managed to keep one alive long. Nurturing the animal was a challenge from the beginning.

"There's hardly any captive husbandry information on this animal," said Jason Jacobs, the zoo's new public relations and marketing director, who was told of the pangolin's death Monday, his first day on the job.

The baby arrived, dehydrated, at the Los Angeles Zoo in January after it was captured by hunters in the Republic of Congo and sold to a couple visiting from Sherman Oaks.

They hid the animal in a wicker basket and carried it on airplanes across three continents before it was confiscated at Los Angeles International Airport and given to the zoo.

The animal, then only 11 ounces and a few months old, was cared for around the clock by gowned and gloved keepers in a humidity-controlled nursery with an incubator, blankets and a stuffed alligator intended to mimic the feel of its mother. The zoo wasn't even sure what sex it was.

"We did a lot of good things in terms of figuring out the husbandry" Holland said. "He was thriving."

The pangolin grew steadily, rarely skipped a meal and ultimately tipped the scales at nearly 4 pounds, benefiting from a diet of a special insectivore chow supplemented by crickets and ants.

Within a few months, he had grown bored with the incubator and graduated to another glass-walled exhibit room, this one filled with trees to climb and a nest box. The keepers decided that he was male -- which a necropsy ultimately confirmed -- and named him Mayeye for the African village the Sherman Oaks couple -- Bruno and Paulina Moussiesse -- had visited when they acquired the pangolin.

He wasn't the most fascinating creature to visit in the zoo. Being nocturnal, he slept most of the day -- unless keepers were in his exhibit cuddling with him. "They'd go in and carry him around a couple of hours a day," said Holland. "He enjoyed associating with them."

Otherwise, he saved his rambunctiousness for night. "He was up all night, tearing up everything," Holland said. "We put logs in there just to keep him interested."

About four weeks ago, Holland said, zoo staff noticed that he was losing weight. Blood tests seemed to indicate hepatitis, but he did not respond well to treatment for that disease.

The zoo performed a liver biopsy last week, Holland said, but results had not come back. The necropsy conducted Monday ruled out hepatitis or nutritional deficiencies but did not determine a cause of death.

"We have to wait for other tests to come back," Holland said. "It really is a mystery."

Though saddened, zoo officials said they appreciated the experience of nurturing the animal.

"They are so different and unique; no one had ever kept a pangolin alive for more than 22 months," Holland said. "We should be glad we had him for 10 months.

"I was always guarded. I never felt 100% that we had this nailed down and we were free and clear. But something happened, and that's what we want to figure out."

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