A baby pangolin has been nursed back to health in Thailand by international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) – after the Critically Endangered animal was found weak and alone by the roadside last month by a local villager.
ZSL immediately alerted key partners from Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), while dispatching its in-country team, accompanied by a wildlife vet from Mahidol University, to rescue the young Sunda pangolin – despite being in the midst of a global pandemic.
Named Hope by his rescuers, the kitten-sized infant - estimated to be just a month old - was at first not expected to survive: but after round-the-clock care Hope has gained weight, is snacking on ant eggs, and has been spotted practising climbing skills in his temporary home - all signs that he can hopefully be released back into the wild.
Dr Eileen Larney, ZSL Conservationist said: “It’s been an anxious few weeks for the ZSL team taking care of Hope: he’s the first infant we’ve ever rescued so it’s certainly been a steep learning curve – getting him to accept bottle-feeding and making sure he has 24-hour care. ZSL consults with pangolin experts globally and are fortunate to work in close partnership with Mahidol’s local wildlife veterinary team to provide the best care possible.
“After being given this precious second chance - something many of his species do not - we’re now assessing whether Hope can be released into the wild, but even there, like all pangolins, he sadly faces an uncertain future.”
Pangolins are thought to be the most trafficked wild mammal in the world and all eight species are now threatened with extinction due to widespread poaching: a seizure of pangolin scales in Malaysia last month weighed six tonnes, representing up to 10,000 individual animals and estimates suggest more than 300 pangolins are poached from the wild every day.
Hope is the third pangolin rescued in Thailand in April through ZSL’s ‘Pangolin Protector’ network – the other two, both females, were assessed and released back into safe, monitored locations in the wild.
ZSL works in Thailand, the Philippines, Nepal and west Africa to protect pangolins and other threatened species from the illegal wildlife trade - the team collaborates with communities to raise awareness, find alternative sources of income and create protected habitats where pangolins can thrive.
“It’s through the close links ZSL has forged with local communities and the Thai wildlife authorities that we have been able to rescue pangolins like Hope – with their support, we'll continue to do all we can to protect this important species from the threats it faces, including the illegal wildlife trade.
“But we need urgent support ourselves: with the coronavirus pandemic threatening ZSL’s future, we are urgently appealing for support from the UK government and the public so that we can continue our vital work rescuing and protecting threatened wildlife across the globe.”
ZSL scientist Professor Andrew Cunningham, a globally respected authority on wildlife health, said: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, much has been made of the importance of wild animals, such as pangolins, as sources of pathogens that can jump into new species, including human beings.
“However, wild animals are not the problem - they don’t cause disease emergence, people do. At the root of the problem is human behaviour and it's only by recognising this that we can investigate what the risky behaviours are and change these so that human behaviour becomes the solution.”
A lack of funding - as a result of the current pandemic - has put ZSL’s world-leading expertise in science and conservation in serious jeopardy: as an international conservation charity, our work is only possible because of funds raised through our two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, both of which are currently closed to the public.
Dr Andrew Terry, ZSL Director of Conservation and Policy, said: “Hope was named by the ZSL team for the second chance he has been given, but his name is also appropriate for the unprecedented times we're all experiencing - everyone needs a little hope right now.
"We hope that people will find a new, more harmonious relationship with nature after this tough period passes, and that ZSL is given the support it needs to continue its vital work."
At this unprecedented time ZSL needs urgent support to keep our two zoos running smoothly, our scientists investigating wildlife diseases such as Covid-19, and our conservationists working in the field to protect critically endangered species such as Hope the Sunda pangolin.