World Pangolin Day 2022 - Mateo and Marimba


World Pangolin Day - Sam Turley Photography


Explore a relationship that should have never existed. Marimba is an orphaned Pangolin whose mother was poached for her scales. She now lives out her life with her full-time carer Mateo who refers to her as his "last born child".




Wild is Life Harare Zimbabwe

Marimba, a ground pangolin, was around a year old when her mother was poached for her scales. Marimba was simply too young to fend for herself and so the decision was made to take her to Wild is Life sanctuary in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she met her full-time carer Mateo.




Pangolin Rescue - Wild is Life

Pangolins are notoriously difficult to look after in captivity, requiring particular and personal care. Mateo’s gentle nature seemed like a perfect fit, and a remarkable relationship was born.

Pangolins are naturally nocturnal; however, for their safety, Marimba and Mateo go out in the day so she can satisfy her insatiable appetite for ants and termites. Marimba and Mateo have spent ten hours a day together for the past 13 years, and it shows – they are inseparable. Many attempts have been made to rewild Marimba, but she always finds a way back to Mateo. She is simply too attached to him and has never learnt the essential skills required to survive in the wild – perhaps because she was orphaned so young.





Pangolin Poaching

As Marimba cannot be released, she will now live out the rest of her life at the sanctuary as an ambassador for her species so that others do not succumb to the same fate as her mother. Do not be fooled by their reptilian appearance – pangolins are affectionate, gentle, sentient creatures and they are rapidly disappearing from our planet. Pangolin’s are the most trafficked group of animals on our planet and they are unfortunately being poached for their highly valued scales. The scales are used in Chinese medicines where it is believed to have medicinal properties. Pangolin scales are however made from keratin, the same substance as our hair and fingernails and have NO medicinal properties at all.


In a perfect world, the close connection between Marimba and Mateo would have never existed.


However, this relationship has elements of what all humans should strive to emulate in our relationship with pangolins if we are to save them from extinction—one of trust, love, and compassion.


Like me, I am sure many would rather see Marimba released into the wild than live an unnatural lifestyle with Mateo. However, even if Marimba could be released, the reality is that pangolins are being poached all over Africa at an unprecedented rate, so where could she be released safely? Her habituation to people means that releasing her at this stage could be a death sentence.



Want to Learn more about Pangolin conservation?
Check out the following charities:

Born Free

Save Pangolins

Pangolin Crisis Fund

Tikki Hywood Foundation


Prints of this remarkable relationship are available for purchase from my website, simply follow the link below.



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