Two months of camera trapping after losing the signal for the released pangolin, P33, we have managed to get a photograph of a Sunda Pangolin.
Although it is not possible to see the transmitter on her (as it attached on the other side) this photo was taken 150m from her last known den site. Alongside this, there have been no recent records of wild pangolins in this area.
This is such a positive sign for the release project and we will endeavor to try and get a photo where the transmitter can be seen, in order to confirm her survival.
In preparation for the next two pangolin releases veterinary staff from Animals Asia Foundation came down to the CPCP centre at Cuc Phuong National Park to attach the transmitter to the next female pangolin (P34) to be released.
As well as attaching the transmitter the pangolin had a final health check. This was a very basic check of general condition as a more comprehensive health check had previously been done last year. In these health checks all pangolins had blood and faecal samples taken to check for parasites. This was not only for the health of the released individuals but to ensure that their release would not have a negative impact on any wild populations.
The procedure this time included anesthetising the pangolin in order to drill two holes in a selected scale, through which the transmitter could be secured. Although the transmitter looks fairly bulky on the pangolin, previous tests have indicated that they do not seem to impact on the naturalistic behaviour of the animal. Holes were also drilled into the final pangolin due for release later this year, but the transmitter was not yet attached. This will be done nearer the release date to prevent it falling off or being damages before release, but this is possible without anesthetising or sedating the individual.
P34 now has over a week left in Cuc Phuong where she will be closely monitored for any signs of stress. If everything goes smoothly then she will travel down to Cat Tien National Park early next week to spend a month acclimatising to the area, before being released in the middle of August.
Members of CPCP recently flew over to Singapore to attend the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group Conference. This was a great opportunity to not only present our work, but broaden our knowledge regarding all aspects of pangolin conservation across all species.
It was particularly interesting to talk to fellow researchers in Namibia working with the Cape (Temminck’s ground) Pangolin as they too have been using VHF radio tracking to investigate the movements, behaviour and survival of pangolins in different African habitats. Although we are dealing with similar technical difficulties, the habitats themselves provided some very different obstacles: while we face the threat of vipers and banded kraits, they face the threat of encountering Rhinos!
I would strongly recommend reading their blog as the sort of data they are collecting is what we here at CPCP are aspiring to http://pangolins-namibia.blogspot.com/. An interesting comparison is the huge difference in range size recorded between a released Cape Pangolin (Otto) and our released Sunda Pangolin (P33). In the first week of release Otto cover 12km in a round-about way, whereas P33 was averaging 100m per night.
There was also great exchange from people all over Asia trying to determine population estimates of pangolin species. This is an important, although time consuming and challenging activity. However, once population estimates are made, it becomes possible to track trends over time. This is an important consideration; currently the predicted decline of pangolins is based on trends reported by hunters and trade data and these feed into the assessments for the IUCN Red List http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/12763/0. Developing universal population monitoring protocols or even establishing a universal method for collecting presence absence data is an important step forward. However, as anyone working with pangolins will tell you this is far easier said than done!
Finally, an aspect that I found particularly interesting, as my knowledge about it was limited, was the sheer demand for pangolin meat and scales that is driving the trade. The demand is so much that pangolins are now being sourced from Africa. The African Pangolin Working Group http://pangolin.org.za/ are working hard to map past and present distributions of pangolins in Africa alongside increasing the understanding of the deep rooted cultural beliefs associated with the use of pangolin in traditional medicines. This is an important consideration as by understanding what beliefs and perceptions drive the demand can any form of attitudinal change begin driven by residents of those consumer countries.
Overall it was an enlightening experience, for which we are grateful to be a part of. There are many other organisations who we would like to thank for taking the time to share thoughts and ideas, many of which we looking forward to implementing in the immediate future.