An African anteater known as a pangolin came to live at the Los Angeles Zoo last January after being confiscated by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services inspector from an area family returning from a trip to Africa. They had reportedly purchased this rare, orphaned creature from villagers in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the bargain price of $3 and somehow managed to get the baby animal as far as Los Angeles International Airport.
Being the only one of its kind in the United States, it wasn’t like there was a Pangolins For Dummies that the Zoo could refer to in raising it, and in the void of such crucial information the keepers — who named it Mayeye (pronounced “my-eye”) — did a phenomenal job nurturing and raising the frail infant into a robust and seemingly healthy youngster whose unique looks and engaging behavior amazed and engaged visitors to the Zoo by the thousands.
Well, last weekend Mayeye died after apparently being ill for several weeks, and I’m among the broken-hearted Zoo staffers, volunteers, members and visitors who are going to miss seeing the little tyke bustle about its exhibit. The cause of death hasn’t been determined.
With Mayeye’s demise, it’s very easy to blame the family that brought it out of Africa, but I’ve often asked myself what would I do if I’d been in their shoes and seen such a frail creature for sale. Wouldn’t I “rescue” it from a certain doom or could I have just walked on by? I honestly don’t know, but I certainly don’t fault them for doing something that no doubt prolonged its life. It’s those “villagers” who took the pangolin out of the wild who are even easier targets to me, but with poverty and quality of life so atrocious in that country who am I to judge them for perhaps doing what they needed just to survive.
So instead of rushing to condemn all who can be faulted I’m trying to see the positive through all the negatives and the sadness. Instead of seeing a chain of blame stretching from an African village all the way to L.A. what I see is a bridge that connected the greater Los Angeles community with an opportunity of discovery and wonder that was as unique as the creature at the center of all the attention. There are thousands upon thousands out there now that hadn’t heard of a pangolin before — and many more who’d never seen one.
Beyond being such a one-of-a-kind educational ambassador, it’s also of great consolation to me knowing that having had no chance of survival in its native land, Mayeye lived in a stable and compassionate environment surrounded by its keepers’ love and care.