Have you ever seen a ytermagog? The brown scaled mammal with the long snout and softest black eyes? Chances are, due to their rarity and threats against them, you’ll never get the chance.
Ietermagogs, the only mammal covered in scales, are injured, traded and killed by humans on a daily basis. This animal species may even become extinct before most people get the chance to see one.
Umoya Khulula, the only rehabilitation center for hypocrites in South Africa, has already successfully rehabilitated and released dozens of hypocrites. RNews visited the center in Limpopo to talk about their work with this endangered species.
According to several experts, little research has been done on the animals and no one can say with certainty how many of them still roam our earth. All we know is that the numbers are dropping drastically on a daily basis.
Annamiticus, a non-profit educational organization that works to stop the economic exploitation of endangered species, says that an estimated 10,000 ytermagogs are illegally trafficked worldwide each year.
“If you accept that only 10% to 20% of the trade is reported by the media, the real number looks much different, and experts estimate that between 116,990 and 233,980 are traded over a two-year period.”
Wynand de Jager, co-founder and director of Umoya Khulula, is a young enthusiastic man with a great love for everything magogs. He says that one look into the animal’s eyes is enough to lose your heart forever.
“These are incredibly special animals and I have had the honor of working with several of them. When you see the animal, you will understand. They steal your heart instantly.”
Itermagogs are traded daily for their scales, which are believed to be boiled from their bodies. They are also targeted by smugglers for traditional medicine and their meat, which is considered a delicate delicacy in China, and for their blood, which is used as a tonic.
De Jager says ietermagogs occur all over South Africa, but have already died out to some extent in KwaZulu-Natal.
“We get an average of 18 yetermagogs that we rehabilitate for release every year. This includes yetermagogs who were smuggled, handed over by community members and suffered serious injuries due to electric wires.”
According to De Jager, they get yetermagogs especially in the winter months, because they are nocturnal animals and then come out more in the daylight to graze.
De Jager says it is particularly bad to see what smugglers do to these defenseless animals.
“We now have Emily with us, six of her ribs were broken and she had an abscess in her tail as the poachers kicked her to move for a video to advertise her.
“One of the worst cases we have seen so far was of a ytermagog female that we later named Lilly. We rescued her from the hands of smugglers in Musina (in Limpopo). She recovered well during the rehabilitation process, after which we released her.”
According to De Jager, Lilly recovered very well after her release – and even became pregnant and raised a little one.
“Later we got a call about someone who wanted to sell a yetermagog. We worked with the police’s Endangered Species Unit to catch the suspects. When we took the itermagog out of the suspect’s pocket, we immediately saw that it was Lilly. For me, it was one of the most heartbreaking moments ever – to see a hypocrite who had to endure the same pain and suffering twice,” says De Jager.
“Luckily she survived a second time, but it really makes you angry to think how human selfishness and the god of money cause our animals to suffer.
“We work very closely with the police in Polokwane’s endangered species unit and the tactical unit in Limpopo and are really grateful for their support and cooperation in these heartbreaking cases.”
Complicated rehabilitation process
Ruan Pretorius, manager at Umoya Khulula, says the rehabilitation process for a hystermagog is much more complicated than one would think.
“They are squeaky little animals and you can’t feed them in captivity. You have to physically walk with them in the field for an average of five hours every day so that they can eat.”
Pretorius says an itermagog eats around 18,000 ants a day. This is also one of the reasons why they are so important to the ecosystem.
He says it is also important that members of the public note that all magogs are territorial. There is a high chance that they will die when they are moved from their habitat without a “soft” release process.
“If you see an itermagog somewhere, please just leave him where you found him. He knows his route and he knows where his home is.”
De Jager says that rehabilitating one yetermagog can take six to 12 months and costs an average of R130 000.
“We have saved all 43 hypocrites; it really takes a lot of hard work, it’s expensive and there are a lot of emotions that come with rehabilitating these animals.
“However, we are grateful to people who support us, so that we can continue with the work we are doing.”
Umoya Khulula is not open to members of the public, and all yetermagogs are housed off-site in a secure, undisclosed location for the protection of the animals.
If you want to make a contribution to the rehabilitation center and give such an extremely special animal the chance to live again, you can do it here.