Why are we attempting a release?
So far the discussion on this blog has been focused on HOW we are conducting this release program but up until now, there has been very little focus on the WHY. With the release day approaching, now seems like an appropriate time to talk about this: What is it about this endangered species that means a release program should be considered as a management option for conserving this species?
Firstly, the Sunda Pangolin is listed on the IUCN Red List as ‘Globally Threatened-Endangered’ (Duckworth et al., 2008). It is one of the most exploited animals in South East Asia, hunted for local use and to satisfy the demand for wild meat, scales and skin in Traditional Chinese Medicine. As confiscations can be of large numbers of live animals, not only do captive facilities run the risk of becoming quickly saturated but an opportunity is being missed to reinforce wild populations.
Secondly, Sunda Pangolins are adaptable animals and can survive in most habitats (Lim, 2007). It is a diet generalist (feeding on several different species of termite and ant each night) and known to be both arboreal (in the canopy) and ground dwelling (in tree hollows or underground burrows) in their sleeping habits. These ecological requirements can be met in relatively small areas in a number of different habitat types. Therefore, theoretically, there should be an abundance of potential release sites within its geographical range.
Finally, there is a severe lack of awareness regarding the plight of pangolins. A release project like this provides the opportunity to help address this problem and begin to stimulate an attitudinal change towards the trade of pangolins.
On paper, a release may seem like a fairly straight forward procedure. In reality, hunting pressures and habitat degradation and destruction make finding suitable sites harder than it should be; and the susceptibility of Sunda Pangolins to stress makes rehabilitation a difficult process.
However, Nam Cat Tien is known as one of the best protected areas in Vietnam, filled with primary and secondary forest in which to find suitable release sites (of which many have been found). Furthermore, the team at the CPCP centre have dedicated a lot of time over the past years developing methods and guidelines for the rehabilitation and release of trade confiscated pangolins with minimal stress to the animal.
It is this gentle approach and attention to proper preparation that gives the animals the best possible opportunity to survive and positively impact on the conservation of the Sunda Pangolin.