Join us in celebrating World Pangolin Day this February 15!
What is a pangolin?
If you’ve never seen one before, you might be shocked to know that they even exist. Yes, it’s the pangolin…And it wouldn’t be unfair to them to call them both strange and unique at the same time. Pangolins are actually the only mammals with scales, made from keratin (the same material as our nails and hair). The name pangolin is also derived from the word pengguling, which translates into ‘roller’ in the Malay language. This comes from their ability to roll into a ball to protect themselves from predators, relying on their strong scaly armor to shield them. There are 8 species of pangolin, from the tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) ,that is native to equatorial Africa, all the way to the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), that we have here in Cambodia.
What is the conservation status of pangolins?
They have become infamous in recent years due to the high volumes of animals and their parts confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. As a result, populations of all eight species are in decline and have been moved to Appendix 1 of CITES (a designation that permits trade in specimens unless for exceptional circumstances). Three species are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, including the Sunda pangolin.
Why are pangolins hunted?
The feature that makes them so unique and is meant to protect them, their scales, is also why they are so heavily sought after. Scales are used in traditional medicines (as well as other parts of the animal), and pangolins are further targeted for consumption in delicacies. The Environmental Investigation Agency estimates a minimum global average of 800 live animals are confiscated annually, with numbers increasing. Between January to August 2019 an estimated equivalent of 110,000 (scales and parts) were confiscated worldwide.
What is World Pangolin Day?
World Pangolin Day was created to raise awareness of the plight of pangolins and support efforts for their conservation.
What conservation efforts are being done to save the pangolin?
Despite the dire situation, there has been some success stories conserving this species from our teams on the ground in Cambodia! In the last 20 years, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team has confiscated over 440 live Sunda pangolins from the illegal wildlife trade, with 90% of animals returned to their native habitat. More than 130 of these have been released at our Wildlife Release Station (WRS) in the Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary, Cardamom Mountain Rainforest Landscape. This area is protected by the Southern Cardamom Forest Protection Program Rangers and Community Anti-Poaching Unit Teams from the nearest commune of Chi Phat. Confiscated animals that are suitable for immediate return to the wild are ‘hard-released’ into the forest surrounding WRS. Those that are too young or injured are rehabilitated in acclimatization enclosures before they are ‘soft-released’ following IUCN Reintroduction Guidelines. This includes supplementary feeding and monitoring post-release. Transmitters are attached by painlessly drilling a hole into a scale on the side of the pangolins’ tail and securing the device with wire! Little is known of Sunda pangolin behavior and ecology in the wild, due to the species elusive and nocturnal nature. This year, we plan to track both soft and hard released animals to gain insights on their behavior and to improve our release protocols for the species! Find out more about the project through the eyes of Sovath, one of of our keepers at WRS.
Thanks to our supporters
We would also like to thank everyone who supported our pangolins at WRS by sponsoring Lucy, the mother of our captive-breeding program. Lucy was rescued after losing two limbs to snares as so was not fit for release into the wild. She was partnered with a male at WRS and mothered four offspring. Three of them have already been released, and her last pup is still in an acclimatization enclosure at the Station. Lucy unfortunately passed away at the end of 2019, succumbing to illness related with old age. Pangolins are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, with a 71% mortality rate in the first year of captivity, so we are very lucky to have had Lucy with us for so long.
How can I help pangolins?
Roux spent the first year sharing an enclosure with her parents, riding on both her mother and father’s tail for transport. The three were inseparable, sleeping in the same termite mounds or logs provided in their enclosure. She is not shy around humans, quickly coming over to the keepers when they enter the enclosure in the evenings to provide her evening meal of red ants. Roux has now been placed in an enclosure on her own, it is too early to determine if she will be set for release or if she will be the founder of a new captive-breeding program with an unrelated male.
Directly support our pangolin conservation efforts by visiting our Wildlife Release Station in the heart of the Cardamom Rainforest Landscape. Not only can you see the pangolins we are preparing for release, but you’ll also get the chance to see some of Cambodia’s other unique wildlife!
Purchase a tracker to help us monitor the soft and hard released pangolins to gain insights on their behavior and to improve their release protocols!