Radio-tagged pangolins released into the wild with support from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) are providing information to help with the conservation of this unique and endangered species after being rescued from poachers.
Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are burrowing mammals that are found in Asia and Africa. Armoured with unique scales comprised of keratin, pangolins eat ants and termites and are predominantly nocturnal and elusive, secretive mammals.
Although pangolins are protected by national and international legislation throughout their range, poaching and habitat loss are understood to be severely depleting populations. In particular, hunting for illegal international trade takes place, predominantly in Asia, where the meat of the animals is consumed and their scales used in traditional medicines.
The last week of June 2013 saw the first ever IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group Conference held in Singapore. The conference was attended by over 40 members of the specialist group, including several members of ZSL staff. The event saw presentations of recent research into understanding demands for pangolins, ecological monitoring and captive care along with workshops to formulate a conservation strategy for pangolins over the next decade. This conference represents the first stage in implementing global conservation for this group of unique species.
Director of ZSL’s Conservation Programmes and Co-Chair of the Pangolin Specialist Group, Professor Jonathan Baillie, said: “Not only do we need to reduce demand for pangolin parts in East Asia, we also need to ensure there are pangolin strongholds where we can ensure the viability of populations in the wild."
ZSL is committed to conserving wild populations of pangolins, and has started by supporting effective conservation of the two most threatened species - the Chinese pangolin and the Sunda pangolin. Both species are recognised as global conservation priorities by ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme, which prioritises species on the basis of uniqueness weighted by threat.
EDGE Fellow Tran Quang Phuong, manager of the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) in Vietnam, has been leading a project to track and study rehabilitated Sunda pangolins that have been rescued from the illegal trade. The centre has released two pangolins so far, each fitted with a small radio tag on its back. The first pangolin released was tracked successfully for a month and during this time the team collected ecological data such as measurements of tree hollows (used by pangolins for sleeping in) and activity patterns at different times of day.
After the first month the signal from the radio tracker disappeared and the worst was feared. However, after extensive searching over a three month period she was photographed by a camera trap alive and well in the nature reserve. Since then a second individual has been released and successfully tracked and there are plans to release more pangolins in the near future.
Meanwhile, Nepali EDGE Fellow Ambika Khatiwada has been attempting to find out more about the Chinese pangolin in the Eastern Himalayas of Nepal through ecological surveys and talking with local communities. Ambika has worked hard to engage with villagers and communities to raise awareness about pangolins and the importance of conserving them. By designing a conservation programme that is led by the local community, Ambika hopes to give pangolins a chance of surviving outside of protected areas.