Set on the gateway to the lake Der Chantecoq, the natural stop over for tens of thousands of common cranes on their way to the Iberian Peninsula, sits the little town of Montier-en-Der, France. Over the past 18 years it has grown into a must-attend event for amateur and professional nature photographers along with the general public and nature lovers. This year the four day festival accommodated over 80 exhibitions of which PPNat – Photographers for the Preservation of Nature, created a display putting the spotlight on the pangolin.
“It is during our travels through Namibia, Zimbabwe and Vietnam, that we became aware of the alarming situation of the pangolin. In 2012, after meeting Lisa Hywood and Maria Diekmann, the photographers of PPNat decided to raise awareness about pangolins, and to promote the conservation NGOs helping the pangolin. The AFPAN, organizers of this festival, immediately responded enthusiastically and gave their full support to the ‘Plight of the Pangolin’ project, and help represent pangolin conservation on a global scale.” say Elyane and Cedric Jacquet, co-founders of PPNat
Through PPNat’s invite, IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group attend alongside key stakeholders The Tikki Hywood Trust, Save Vietmam’s Wildlife, R.E.S.T. (Rare and Endangered Species Trust) and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia. Many of these NGOs received donated medical supplies and field equipment handed over at the festival.
A centrally located stand gave the majority of the 45,000 festival-goers access to information about the pangolin, highlighting the plight they face. With 95% of those visitors unaware of what a pangolin is, this was a huge step in raising the awareness for this animal. Several artists from several countries supported the plight of the pangolin, making some stunning pieces of artwork in brush, charcoal and pencil. These artwork pieces are being sold to raise money for conservation organizations doing field work.
Lisa Hywood (Tikki Hywood Trust), Chris Shepherd (TRAFFIC Southeast Asia) and Louise Fletcher (IUCN), all shared their experience talking about their fight in the protection of this extraordinary animal. This culminated in a fascinating conference ‘What’s the future for the pangolin?’
Louise Fletcher, presenting on behalf of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group, spoke about her experience releasing rehabilitated Sunda pangolin in Vietnam with Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. This was further supported by literature from the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group’s recently published action plan ‘Scaling Up Pangolin Conservation’ (Challender, Waterman and Baillie, 2014). Fletcher highlighted the need for field work on both wild and released individuals to improve conservation efforts and the importance in continuing to develop rehabilitation and release programs that are applicable to all eight species.
Lisa Hywood beautifully described her experience over the past twenty years with the African species and in particular the ground pangolin, speaking about the dedication required for the successful rehabilitation of individuals rescued from the illegal trade. Something which her organization, The Tikki Hywood Trust, has experienced tremendous success in having just released their 26th rescued pangolin over the past two years. The Tikki Hywood Trust believes that all range state countries need to improve the implementation of their own wildlife laws. Together with this we also need to work towards getting all 8 species of pangolin up listed to CITES Appendix I which will offer this species further awareness and protection.
The presentation by Chris Shepherd from TRAFFIC Southeast Asia put the shear extent of the trade network involved in the trafficking of this species into perspective. Shepherd emphasized the need for increased enforcement for the successful protection of this species, fully supporting the work achieved in Zimbabwe as an example of what should be implemented range wide. Shepherd also highlighted that commercial breeding of pangolins was not a viable option due to the slow reproduction rates and difficulties in keeping pangolins in captivity and the extremely high demand for pangolins. He also cited poor capacity to monitor and regulate breeding operations of any wildlife in Southeast Asia as being another major conservation concern.
Radio and TV interviews caught the attention of national and foreign magazines who are also interested in the fight to save the pangolin and the exhibition will tour to other major nature festivals in Belgium, France and Italy, with the opportunity to exhibit at the Natural History Museums of both Brussels and Paris.
These contacts and a short film due for release soon will help to elevate the animal’s profile by introducing a petition to governments to support the upgrade of all eight species to Appendix 1 on CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) at the next meeting in 2016. This would prohibit any commercial trade of this species.
On behalf of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group and Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, Louise Fletcher would like to express her gratitude to the members of PPNat and AFPAN for their support and look forward to future collaborations in the fight to save this species.
Please visit and find out about their pangolin conservation, as well as their other conservation projects.
Save Vietnam’s Wildlife is honored to announce the launch of our official English website http://www.savevietnamswildlife.org on Wednesday 19th November 2014.
Save Vietnam’s Wildlife was established as a national Non-Profit Organisation on July 22nd 2014 and our website showcases what we have been doing. The Vietnamese version will be issued within the next month.
Our website provides an overview of the conservation achievements of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife over the last few months and of the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program’s in the past several years of which Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW) continues to take responsibility for.
Despite threats of habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife is actively engaged in the correct placement of confiscated wildlife. We strive to carry out scientific research increasing the understanding of the requirements for threatened species in the wild and in captivity; educate and train the public and rangers to promote positive perceptions and attitudes towards wildlife conservation; and develop conservation breeding programmes for threatened species to support wild populations. Finally, we’re continually evolving our animal welfare standards and practices promoting ideals to zoos and rescue centres across Vietnam.
We are writing to express our deepest thanks for your generous donation and support to The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program in the past and Save Vietnam’s Wildlife in the future. We are excited about what can be achieved with your continued support.
On behalf of the team at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife
All the best,
The plight of the pangolin is complex and contains components we don’t yet fully understand. Its conservation is a global issue requiring a multi-faceted approach and tackling it should be done sensitively.
The extent of the network involved in pangolin trafficking extends from the opportunistic poacher living near the forest, to the kingpins reaping the benefits of this lucrative business via several middle men and confiscations happen at all stages.
49 live pangolins seized in Vietnam in 2013 © Talk Vietnam
For example as both a source, transit and consumer country, confiscations in Vietnam vary between individuals found at restaurants or markets, to numerous live individuals hidden in vehicles, reaching hundreds of frozen carcasses uncovered at ports.
In order to ‘scale up pangolin conservation’ the IUCN has produced an action plan to build on the activities already under development. It is broadly separated into four groups: conservation research, pangolin strongholds, demand reduction and policy recommendations. The activities have one of two aims: either preserving numbers or boosting them.
But how many pangolins are there?
Population figures are hard to obtain. Having spent a year and a half living at a field site and more days and nights in the forest than I can count, I have seen a wild pangolin only once.
A wild Sunda pangolin hiding in the branches of a tree. © Louise Fletcher, Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program.
Developing a methodology to achieve this involves accessing long term, large scale camera trap data sets to develop an index useful to track population fluctuations. However, at sites where this isn’t already established, camera trapping does not provide the required information in an adequate time frame.
Camera trap photograph of a Sunda pangolin. © Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program, Vietnam
For those species that sleep in modified burrows or dig their own (Chinese and ground pangolin), burrow counts and occupancy offer a method of estimating abundance. However, many species are arboreal or leave little evidence of presence.
More immediately, range size could be used as a method of predicting densities, but this is only suitable in pristine forest, undisturbed by human encroachment like those found in Hong Kong, Brunei and other forests across the island of Southeast Asia.
So how do we preserve them?
Habitat loss and indiscriminate poaching are problems facing the preservation of numerous species globally. Efforts to reduce this with alternative livelihood programs and encouraging ownership and pride among local people towards the biodiversity on their doorstep should be – and are – standard, and often successful, strategies for organisations working on the preservation of any wildlife at a particular site.
Deforestation exposes pangolins who are usually able to move elusively through the undergrowth; draws in neighboring individuals with an initial peak in food accessibility and facilitates access for hunters with dogs and traps. The millions of hectares that plantations operate over provide a platform on which to make a positive impact in saving these species. Urging palm oil companies to commit to creating a corporate policy specifically for the conservation of pangolins are imperative in preserving numbers.
When a 2kg animal sells for 700USD providing a monetary alternative to poaching pangolin is nonsensical, every new plantation creates thousands of poachers alongside it, driving populations down but prices up. Protection and enforcement is the most productive way forward. On a global scale this is taking steps to push all eight species to Appendix 1 of CITES and at regional levels this is working with authorities to uphold the law, close loopholes, prosecute criminals and then let the fear spread.
Now, what drives the price? Demand.
This is the same for rhino horn, ivory and shark fin. There are numerous examples of demand reduction strategies at local, national and international levels-they just don’t include pangolin. Engagement of opinion holders and other organisations with the pangolin is a huge step in rapidly changing behavior.
Right, let’s boost those numbers.
The pangolin is complex. It is a rare example where demand exists for every part of the animal-meat and scales-for different uses, putting it on a completely different platform to other trafficked animals. There is a huge sense of urgency that needs to be highlighted regarding this species, but this should not lead to rash decisions.The demand is unsustainable and as a species that does not to thrive in captivity. The most effective way of boosting numbers is through rescue, reintroduction and reinforcement of wild populations.
Released trade confiscated Sunda pangolin. © Louise Fletcher, Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program, Vietnam
Here, the key is attention to detail.
In my experience, over 18 months, we have released five individuals. With strategic planning of release locations, considering sex ratios and range overlap, the foundations are laid for nature to take its course and the population to grow. It is these specifics that mean every action will have a measurable impact, yet there are aspects that are often overlooked.
Rehabilitated Sunda pangolin undergoing a health check before release © Louise Fletcher, Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program
Getting them from the condition they arrive in when rescued from the trade to one suitable for survival in the wild is not an easy task. Pangolins can arrive nutritionally stressed and dehydrated often with injuries from traps. They can deteriorate very quickly, within hours.
Two pangolin hang on the left as bush meat. ©African Pangolin Working Group
Those that are confiscated in transit and in large numbers will have been kept in close proximity for a prolonged period of time causing social anxiety for a territorial and solitary species. At wildlife markets contact within and between species may encourage the transmission of diseases, this has led to a strict quarantine procedure in Vietnam that may not be applicable in other range countries where often animals are taken directly from the hands of the poachers swiftly after the animals have been taken from the forest.
The individuals I have experience with were kept in captivity for many years. When released they favored sleeping sites at ground level often re-using the sleeping site for two-three nights in a row. This could represent conditioning from captivity where they slept in the same underground bed box or reminiscent of their natural behaviours – perhaps this preference for sleeping at ground level and staying in the same sleeping site made them easier to catch by poachers. Either way, this knowledge can feed back into refining and modifying the whole process.
In order for implementation to work, select your sites well.
To highlight this, I would like to use the case study of the work done in Vietnam over the past 5 years. After years of developing environmental enrichments, diets and health checks that were suitable for the animals and brought them back from the brink of death after confiscation, five individuals were released in a selected protected area.
The area is known as one of the best protected areas in Vietnam, housing other important species such as the Asian elephant, yellow cheeked gibbon and gaur. We recorded information on where individuals slept and moved to increase our ecological understanding of them. We released them where there was a chance of male, female overlap, but to avoid confrontation with males.
Forest Protection Department staff gaining training in pangolin rehabilitation. ©Louise Fletcher, Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program Vietnam
Through the entirety of the project we worked Forest Protection Staff and local people (to collect food for the animals and build release enclosures) we began to build a sense of ownership and pride and gave them a reason to continue to protect the forest. I remember when we finally managed to persuade the villager who collected food for our animals to come and actually the see the animal he was helping – he couldn’t believe what it looked like! We trained the rangers to care for the animals and how to track them after release. We went to schools in the local village and at local universities to talk about the work. I firmly believe if you give them a reason to care and an achievement to be proud of they will flourish.
But don’t be naïve – the reason might be money, the achievement might be a status symbol. That’s human nature, but channeling it in the right way can have a positive impact and over time attitudes can change.
What is imperative is the sense of longevity with this plan. People forget. People move on. Old habits return. The pangolin cannot withstand that. We need to build the momentum of what has already begun. Scaling it up is not about big gestures or one-off statements, it’s about commitment, dedication and the sharing of ideas and information on a global scale.
Thanks to The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund for their support.
Recently I have been writing proposals to continue fieldwork with pangolins in Vietnam with Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW). Throughout this process I am often asked by donors, “but what about demand reduction?” This is a valid point, SVW have included in their plans a community engagement aspect around field sites that we are working at and have just conducted a rapid survey in Hanoi of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shops and restaurants.
However, demand reduction needs to be tackled at several levels. For example Education for Nature Vietnam (http://envietnam.org/) have the capacity to produce Public Service Announcements in major cities across Vietnam and larger international organisations can encourage national and international celebrities to drive an attitudinal change. By all working together and tackling different audiences we can really begin to make a difference.
However, I also believe that there needs to be an increase in communication between organisations and to bridge the gap between on the ground NGOs, celebrities and large corporations (and am on a bit of a personal mission to try and facilitate this communication). Since starting at Investec Asset Management I have started to see the role large corporations can have in conservation and today I became even more aware of the power of celebrity endorsement.
This morning I met Sharon Kwok, an Asian celebrity, who has worked tirelessly to reduce demand for shark fin, ivory and rhino horn across Hong Kong and in China. As a passionate conservationist she was already convinced that things need to be done to save the pangolin however, she also provided an excellent insight into the psyche of the Chinese and the best way to get your message across.
One of the main issues is that so many people don’t know what a pangolin is and for this we need to recruit ambassadors. The more Sharon talks about pangolin publicly, the more people in range countries across Asia will become aware. We can also use her statement supporting pangolin to get the attention of important embassies as well as spread word among other celebrity friends.
This is the start of a great opportunity, but it needs longevity to really make a change and we are busy making plans for our next steps.
Sunda pangolin are critically endangered, most confiscations are of mammoth numbers of frozen carcasses or scales. When a live one is rescued it is a huge deal. Within the past week, thanks to Education for Nature Vietnam’s (ENV) hotline, there have been two reports of live Sunda pangolins. Both of which have been rescued by SVW and taken to the rehabilitation centre in Cuc Phuong.
One was from a restaurant and the other had been kept in a jewellery shop.
As slow breeding, solitary animals their rehabilitation and release needs to be carefully considered and managed. Populations in Vietnam are so low that reinforcement of wild populations is the best hope in creating pangolin hotspots and reviving the population. The hope is that after rehabilitation these animals will form part of the release program at a site where we know pangolins already are. This way we can release them in consideration of sex ratios and to maximise genetic flow within populations.
The confiscations happened almost immediately after the reports were made to ENV and it is brilliant to see the local authorities acting promptly on the tip off. Animals will spend a minimum of four weeks in quarrantine to observe for signs of stressed behaviours and nutrional stress.
The hope is that with ENV’s pangolin focussed public service announcement early next year there will be more stories like this.