Meet Dr Claire Okell, founder of The Pangolin Project and a wealth of knowledge on these highly endangered mammals. Claire originally trained as a vet in the UK, before working for several years in drought and conflict zones for NGOs. More recently, she has embraced her life-long passion for conservation and set up The Pangolin Project, which is the only one of its kind in Kenya. We caught up with Claire and the research team at Sala’s Camp to learn more about the elusive pangolin…
Claire set up The Pangolin Project in 2019.
Q & A WITH DR CLAIRE OKELL
WHAT IS A PANGOLIN?
Sometimes referred to as the ‘scaly anteater’, pangolins are covered head to toe in hard keratin scales which they use to defend themselves against predators. Often mistaken for reptiles, pangolins are actually mammals. There are eight different species: four that live in Asia and four that live in Africa. Here in the Masai Mara, we have the Temmincki Ground Pangolin. Because they are nocturnal and very secretive, most people have never seen one.
Claire and The Pangolin Project’s researchers are based at Sala’s Camp.
Covered head to toe in hard scales, their bodies look prepped for battle. ©The Pangolin Project
WHAT ARE PANGOLINS’ UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS?
They are mostly bipedal, which means they walk on their back legs and hold their front legs up. A bit like little T-Rexes!
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE PERSONALITY OF A PANGOLIN?
Incredibly self-sufficient and particular, especially when it comes to food. Enigmatic and determined also sums the pangolin up quite nicely.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT PANGOLINS?
They are the gentlest of creatures and there is so much about them that we don’t know. This makes their situation all the more desperate as they are incredibly vulnerable and we must act quickly to develop effective protection strategies.