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St. Augustine Man Joins Fight To Save Most-Trafficked Mammal

A First Coast conservationist celebrated the birth of one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

A baby pangolin took its first breaths in St. Augustine last week, thousands of miles away from its natural habitat.

His Northeast Florida host is hoping the birth is just the beginning of bringing the animal back from the brink of extinction.

The mother pangolin looks like a small, armored anteater the size of a cat and she’s surprisingly energetic for a nocturnal animal that just gave birth.

The curious critter originally hails from Asia and Africa, and as NPR recently reported, it’s the most trafficked mammal in the world. People in China use its scales in traditional medicine.

Justin Miller runs the nonprofit Pangolin Conservation out of his St. Augustine home. He said the animals are notoriously difficult to conserve because of their fickle eating habits.

“In the past a lot of zoological facilities tried to work with, say in the 1950s up until about the 1970s or 80s, and they largely failed,” Miller said.

In nature they eat live insects, and they don't respond well to dishes of gruel. So Miller’s made his own pangolin feed, and they love it.

Miller dries bugs in various stages of life from larvae to adults and he hopes the ground-insect mixture solves zoos’ problem with taking pangolins.

“Hopefully some of the animals we have now will be going to some zoos by the end of the year,” he said.

Miller said he’s more than happy to say goodbye if it means more will be born in captivity. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.