Putting Thailand’s pangolins on the map

by ZSL on

Thailand is an incredibly biologically diverse country. It covers three eco-regions meaning that there is a huge variety of plant and animal species found there, including two Critically Endangered species of pangolin – the Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin. Thailand has a strong history of wild plant and animal research; but, until recently, no attention had been paid to its pangolin populations. Now, thanks to generous support from Fondation Segré, ZSL is working with Thailand’s Department of National Parks (DNP) to study and protect the country’s remaining pangolin populations. 

Photograph of a hand-made pangolin puppet
Pangolin hand puppet created by Jean Louis group used in a traditional Thai puppetry performance for communities as part of ZSL Thailand’s pangolin outreach efforts.

ZSL Thailand’s Pangolin Project currently works in the southeastern western forest complex (sWEFCOM) in Kanchanaburi province in the western part of Thailand. Pangolins are extremely difficult animals to monitor, so we use camera traps to find them. Camera traps are great for studying elusive animals like pangolins because we can put out many cameras to monitor many places at the same time and around the clock. Before setting the camera traps, our team surveys the study area to find a suitable site. We set the camera traps by the tree holes where there are recent pangolin signs (claw marks or fresh dirt), ants and termite mounds, or near water (streams or ponds).

Camera trap image of a young pangolin exploring a hole in a tree
Juvenile pangolin visiting a tree hole during ZSL Thailand’s camera trap surveys in western Thailand.

In the past year, we have found pangolins in several of our camera trap survey sites with some sites having up to four different individuals visiting regularly throughout the year. We have found male and female pangolins (adults and juveniles), but we were especially excited to document two different mother pangolins with babies on their back. This is good news for Thailand’s pangolins since it indicates populations are still viable enough to breed, but deep down it is hard for us not to be nervous. 

Near where we have found pangolins, we also see disturbance from human activities in the forest, for example mushroom and bamboo shoot collection, logging, as well as poaching – this is because many of the local communities are still very dependent on the forests for their livelihoods. We also see areas of the forest being burnt, especially in the dry season to promote growth of new leaves of a forest tree (Melientha suavis or pak wan) that is often illegally harvested and served with ant larvae as a local delicacy. 

Outdoor group photo of the young children with the poster they've made
Youth from Kanchanaburi, Thailand holding the pangolin thought board, where students contribute a scale with what they can do to help pangolins as part of ZSL Thailand pangolin outreach programs.

Our team works with rangers across four protected areas and community research assistants with site-based patrols to better understand pangolins and threats in order to protect them. But it is also important to bring the pangolin information that we have discovered through our research to the local communities. Our team has worked with youth groups, students, and villagers all around our study area to raise awareness of pangolins and their conservation, as well as other wildlife and habitat conservation. We have done this in many ways, including working with a group of traditional Thai puppeteers to make a puppet show about pangolins. 

Left image - Three puppeteers operating the Hanuman puppet during a performance. Right image - Pangolin puppet on it's stand.
Members of Thailand’s Jean Louis puppet group with the character Hanuman, during performance in rural village in Nong Bang, Thailand as part of ZSL Thailand’s pangolin outreach efforts. And (right) Pangolin hand puppet created by Jean Louis group.

Pangolins face a difficult future but all aspects of our work including our research, law enforcement support, and community outreach activities are aiming to help conserve Thailand’s pangolins forever.

By Yingboon (Im) Chongsomchai, ZSL Thailand’s Pangolin Officer

Find out more about ZSL's pangolin conservation work

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