So how do you track an animal so notoriously difficult to see? With lots and lots of practice…

A very important aspect of the project is tracking the movements of the pangolin after release. We can measure the success of the release program by monitoring two aspects: survival and establishment of a stable home range.

In order to do this we are using the radio tracking technique of triangulation. This involves us locating the signal from the transmitter attached to the pangolin and taking a compass bearing of the direction the signal is coming from.

For practice we have been hiding transmitters in the forest and trying to locate them. On our first attempts, worryingly, our estimates were often 10 or 20 degrees off the actual bearing! However, lots and lots of practice has meant that on our latest attempts we were often only 3 degrees off-a huge improvement!

Radio tracking in the forestRadio tracking from the road

This morning we took our well developed skills to the release area to see from how far away we could pick up a signal. The release site itself is a lovely area of primary forest, with a nearby stream and many tree hollows and termite mounds-perfect pangolin habitat. However, in terms of radio tracking it is a challenging environment.

Suitable tree hollow for a den site

We are able to pick up a signal up to 500m away when we are in the forest, and 700m when we are on the road. However, the denseness of the forest and the undulation of the ground mean that there are some areas where a signal is a lot harder to pick up than others. We also have no idea just how far away the pangolin may move.

DO NOT FEAR THOUGH, we love a challenge and are already coming up with ideas on how to collect the best data possible, plus we also have some larger radio receivers which, in theory, should be able to pick up a signal  form a transmitter up to 1.5km away. We will be testing them shortly, so keep your fingers crossed for us…

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Acclimatizing to a new environment

With temperatures reaching up to 36◦ the climate in the South is a little different to what the pangolin has been used to while undergoing rehabilitation in the North. This is means certain steps must be taken to help her acclimatize.

Until the rainy season starts at the beginning of May adaptations to the enclosure have been made to keep it as cool as possible. This involved collecting foliage to put on the top of the enclosure and adding cover on the sides for shade.

A pangolin’s diet consists of termites and ants; P33 is provided with live ants, freshly collected every day. Weaver ant’s nests are collected from the local village and placed in the enclosure. This is often a fairly painful and itchy process for the staff; after feeding then begins the process of removing all the ants that have managed to crawl into your clothes and hair!

We monitor her throughout the night to see how much and when she eats and once a week we weigh her.  On Friday she was weighed for the first time since arriving and we are please to say that she has maintained her weight, an excellent sign. She has also been sticking to a regular eating pattern, feeding between 8pm and 10pm at night.

So far, we have been leaving her alone during her active periods so as not to disturb her while she acclimatizes  This week we intend to observe her from 7.30pm onward so we are able to watch her feed and get an idea for how long her active periods are.

Getting an idea of her activity patterns will help us develop a monitoring schedule to track her when released, although the exciting part is we have no real idea of how she will behave once released!

Collecting weaver ant nests
Collecting weaver ant nests
Ant nests are placed and different heights and locations for the pangolin to find
Ant nests are placed at different heights and locations for the pangolin to find

 

Food bowl crawling with ants
Food bowl crawling with ants

 

She naturally curls up into a ball to quickly weigh her in the transport box
She naturally curls up into a ball to quickly weigh her in the transport box

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The journey to a new home

In the early hours of Friday morning a sleeping Sunda Pangolin embarked on a journey from Cuc Phuong National Park, northern Vietnam, to Cat Tien National Park, in the south of the country. This represented the next exciting stage in a long term project to rehabilitate and release trade confiscated Sunda Pangolins. 

The timing of the journey was critical, to minimize the amount of stress on the animal. By travelling through the day, the nocturnal creature slept comfortably as she went by car, plane and a short boat ride before reaching her new, temporary enclosure at Cat Tien National Park. 

The down pour of rain that met us on arrival provided welcoming conditions for the pangolin, who is used to the slightly cooler temperatures of the north. As expected when first introduced into the enclosure, she spent time sniffing and scent marking, getting used to the novel surroundings. A mixture of live and frozen ants were provided and she was left to begin acclimatizing to her new surroundings.

Throughout the project it is important to monitor the pangolin for any stressed behavior (e.g. pacing, not eating and climbing on the wire meshing of the cage). After leaving her for an hour or so, when she was next checked upon she had already tucked into the frozen ants that had been left for her, but was still active around the cage. However, when the researchers returned later on that night, they were relieved to see that she was asleep in the bedbox in the enclosure. 

The next four weeks are crucial as we continue to prepare her for the release into the National Park. Follow the story of how she does: find out about what needs to be done to prepare her for release, how we collect ants to feed her and the ecology and behavior of the Sunda Pangolin. Then stick with us to find out how she responds when released into the wild. 

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