A Pioneering Initiative in Pangolin Conservation

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Dr Bhagawan Raj Dahal, Project Manager at ZSL Nepal, reports on the work being carried out to protect pangolins.

With an estimated 1 million individuals having been removed from the wild in the last decade, the pangolin has to bear the unfortunate tag of being the most trafficked mammal in the world. An easy target for poachers because of its shy and peaceful nature, the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), has seen its population crash by over 90% during the last 20 years. It is now Critically Endangered, reduced to remnant populations in the Himalayan foothills.

Close up of a Chinese pangolin
Chinese pangolin in Nepal

In a bid to counter the never before seen poaching rate, my colleagues at ZSL-Nepal and our consortium of partners are now breaking virgin territories in the conservation of the Chinese pangolin in Nepal. We use a two-pronged approach of training for law enforcement officials, with community empowerment and awareness.

This summer ZSL-Nepal worked with Himalayan Nature, supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, to organise the first-ever training on pangolins for law enforcement agencies in the two districts of Sankhuwasabha and Kavrepalanchowk. These Himalayan districts are conservation priorities because a survey in 2016 showed that they have excellent pangolin habitat and could have viable populations. However, their pangolins are under threat, as the Nepal-China border serves as a key trading route for the illegal wildlife trade, and Kavrepalanchowk is on one of the most passable highways between Nepal and China, while Sankhuwasabha connects to China through the remote border village of Kimathanka. 

Our training targeted key people from different stages of prosecuting those suspected of involvement in the illegal wildlife trade: investigators, prosecutors and judges. Representatives attended from Protected Areas, the Division Forest Office, District Administration Office, District Police Office, Customs Office, District Court, and the District Attorney Office. They all have limited resources, but it helps make pangolins their priority if they understand how threatened the animals are, can recognise pangolin scales and meat, know the legal tools they can use, and understand how poachers and traders operate. This is the latest session of an overall training program that began in 2017 and has already reached not only other priority provinces, but also judges and attorneys of the Supreme Court, and senior officers of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, and Department of Forests.

Members of a group holding a pangolin
Group from a CBAPU in Nepal with a rescued pangolin, before successfully releasing it.

But to truly go from ‘top to bottom and bottom to top’, communities also have to be involved. They can have an immense role at the ground level safeguarding highly traded species. Hence, 15 members of the communities from both districts (Sankhuwasabha and Kavrepalanchowk) have chosen to serve in Community Based Anti-Poaching Units (CBAPU). I also organise and deliver training for them, so that they understand that pangolins are harmless friends of farmers, eating termites and ants, and we supply equipment so they can regularly patrol their community forests to prevent poaching. 

In addition to the formation of CBAPU, a first-ever Community Managed Pangolin Conservation Area (CMPCA) was established in Makawanpur district in 2017. For me, this initiative is the biggest achievement in pangolin conservation in Nepal, since the communities are completely managing various aspects of pangolin conservation in their area, taking pride in having healthy wildlife populations. Women are an important cog in conservation, and they formed a women-led committee under the umbrella of CMPCA for the implementation of alternative livelihood activities, such as poultry management, goat farming and account keeping. With their empowerment, pangolin conservation has taken on a new dimension. They use the forest daily to collect fuel and livestock fodder, and can inform the CBAPU of any suspicious behaviour in the forest. We have also worked with schools in three districts to reach 5000 children in extra-curricular activities, including pangolin art, quiz and essay contests.

Community members sat in a classroom
Training workshop on goat farming at the Makawanpur Community Managed Pangolin Conservation Area, Nepal.

Although more endeavours are imperative for the conservation of pangolins, at ZSL-Nepal we are already seeing the difference that our work is making, with communities actively rescuing pangolins, and more arrests and seizures reported. We will continue further trainings for law enforcement agencies and community involvement, which are imperative if the Critically Endangered Chinese pangolin is to return from the brink of extinction.

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