Rare giant pangolins – sometimes known as scaly anteaters for their protective armour – have been captured on camera.
Chester Zoo researchers filmed the creatures in their natural habitat, rooting around in undergrowth at the Ziwa sanctuary in Uganda, giving an extraordinary insight into the secretive nocturnal species.
One clip shows a giant pangolin sitting on its powerful tail while holding on to a tree with its claws. Another shows a baby clinging on to the back of an adult as it moves through bushes.
Stuart Nixon, Chester Zoo’s Africa field programme and research lead, said: “With no giant pangolins in zoos or safari parks anywhere in the world, all our conservation efforts must focus on saving them in the wild.
“The race is on against criminal networks that only value dead pangolins, to save this species and protect them well into the future.”
The animals, which were filmed by 70 motion sensor trail cameras, are known for their overlapping protective scales made from the same substance as fingernails.
Giant pangolins are somewhere between aneaters and armadillos and feed on termites and ants with their long tongues.
They can also roll into balls at speed to protect themselves.
The creatures, which are found in the rainforests and grasslands of equatorial Africa, can grow up to almost six feet long and weigh about five stone.
“The giant pangolin is a beautiful, mysterious and utterly fascinating species but studying them is extremely challenging,” said Mr Nixon.
“Being nocturnal, rare and very shy it’s only with new technologies such as high sensitivity trail cameras that we are able to learn more about how they live and interact with each other and their environment.”
Chester Zoo conservationists working with Rhino Fund Uganda are hoping to fit tracking devices to the animals to learn more about their behaviour.
Giant pangolins are the most illegally trafficked wildlife species in the world.
Customs officials in Hong Kong seized a record eight tonnes of pangolin scales earlier this month and almost 500kg – believed to be from the Democratic Republic of Congo – was seized in Uganda.
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