Despite pangolins being one of the world’s most trafficked mammals, there is very little known about their ecology. This is largely due to their cryptic behaviour: they are nocturnal, living mainly in underground burrows, and leave very little sign of their presence in the environment. To develop appropriate conservation plans and initiatives, we need to have a basic understanding of their biological needs and how to rapidly locate them to enable researchers to study them further.
The giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) is the largest of the pangolin species, growing up to 1.8m long. Despite its large size, it is incredibly difficult to locate in the forest habitats of Cameroon. Published in January 2018, a study carried out by ZSL in collaboration with the Congo Basin Institute (CBI) and Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF), represents the first steps into identifying potential locations to find giant ground pangolin in a relatively short time span.
The study took place in south central Cameroon in the 526,000 ha Dja Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is among the largest protected areas in Cameroon. Local Baka guides helped to find nine potential sites that they thought giant ground pangolin would use as a burrow and a camera-trap was placed at each of these locations. After only two days, we recorded the first images and video of a pangolin entering a hole under a tree root. It visited the tree a further seven times during the 25 day study. The pangolin showed scent marking behaviour and was also seen entering the burrow shortly before and after other wildlife such as giant pouched rat (Cricetomys emini) and African brush-tailed porcupine (Atherurus africanus). This could mean the species are tolerant of one another or the burrows are large enough to accommodate multiple animals in different chambers.
This small research project demonstrates that appropriate use of camera-traps could allow researchers to find where giant pangolins are present in the environment and begin to gather details as to what may constitute a giant ground pangolin burrow in a quantifiable manner. The images and footage gathered during this survey can assist in bringing attention to this rarely seen, but charismatic species.
Despite the growing plight of these poorly understood animals, recognition for the importance of their protection and conservation is growing. Importantly, the Government of Cameroon supported the uplisting of pangolins to Appendix I of CITES in January 2017, prohibiting all commercial international trade of pangolins. Appendix I species are automatically listed as Class A in Cameroon, which means that they are fully protected under Cameroonian law. However, due to increasing demand for pangolin meat and scales and a lack of law enforcement capacity, prolific illegal hunting still threatens the Congo Basin’s pangolins.
Education and increased awareness of the threats to the species is vital. Saturday 17th February 2018 is the seventh World Pangolin Day and everyone can get involved by sharing pictures and stories using #WorldPangolinDay, as well as hosting a World Pangolin Day event.
Select a blog
Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.
At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.