Difficulties of a release program and what can be learnt

So far we have reported on the successes of our release program, however, we have recently suffered some losses. These experiences are just important to share and document in order to ensure that we learn from them. 

Firstly, in November we received a juvenile pangolin rescued from the trade, it had a snare trap wound and was handed over to our care. It was a strong young male and over the following month his wound was healing, with no sign of infection and he was feeding well. Then, on boxing day, when we went to clean the wound and provide medication, the animal was very weak. We immediately set about adding warmth to the bedbox and finding fluids to re hydrate him. Unfortunately, he died within the hour. This deterioration happened so rapidly and highlights just how difficult this species is to rehabilitate. The mortality rate in captivity is 70-80%. We have conducted a post mortem and although there are samples to be tested, we did not see any evidence of parasites or ulcers. 

The second piece of sad news involves the male that we released, P27. We had released him in an area where tourists walk, as their presence provides added protection from hunting. All was going well although in November, after six weeks of tracking, the transmitter dropped off.

On Tuesday he unfortunately strayed into the park headquarters. It was feared that if people knew he was here he would be at risk. So we took him, put him in the enclosure for the rest of the night, provided food then released him in a different area the following evening. All this time he felt strong and on Wednesday morning we were able to reattach the transmitter while he was asleep. He had, however, lost weight, but some weight loss was to be expected as they adapt to life in the wild.

Unfortunately, on Friday morning, we found that he had died in the forest.  


We fear that life in the wild had been stressful. The first week after release food resources were left and not once did he return to them. However, three weeks after release he began to stay in the same den site for several nights in a row and returned there on three separate occasions. However, according to our camera traps he was still coming out to feed and we know that there were termites within 5m of the den site.

Perhaps, in hindsight, this was a sign that he was struggling. We can only begin to infer this after tracking a wild male pangolin who moved den sites every night but the only way to really begin to understand is by sharing this knowledge, talking about our experiences and adapting release programs accordingly.  

It is hoped that by sharing this we can remind people that releasing any animal straight after confiscation is a poor placement option; that post release monitoring is imperative; that there is a desperate the need to study healthy, wild populations to use as a reference to guide release programs;  and that every animal is worth investing time into.

Finally, and most importantly, we want to show that there is no shame in trying and failing but there is in not trying at all. 

Home range of a wild pangolin

Successful conservation management requires a project to be constantly evaluated and developed. Since we began releasing pangolins in April it appears that the rehabilitation and release procedure we are following is working: the animals are surviving.

However, the next step is the management of these releases to ensure that they have a measurable impact on the conservation of the species. To do this requires combining our data; data from research on the same species but in a difference habitat; and data from a different pangolin species in a similar habitat.

Research conducted in Singapore on Sunda Pangolins (Lim, 2008) recorded home ranges up to 70ha for males and studies on the Chinese Pangolin in Taiwan have found that a male’s home range is larger and overlaps several females’, but there is no overlap between female home ranges.

What we have discovered is that our released pangolins have ranges a lot smaller than this. Initially, it was difficult to tell if this was because resources were more abundant or if they were simply being more cautious in an unfamiliar environment.

While we have been tracking a wild pangolin for nearly 3 weeks we have recorded a home range size of 75ha, and over the past 2 days has returned back to the area he was in at the beginning of the tracking process. From this we could predict that the ranges of our released animals are not small due to resource distribution but due to the unfamiliarity of the area. Therefore, they should gradually increase as they explore more of the area, although it is difficult to say over what sort of time frame this may happen.

Furthermore, by mapping the home ranges of different sexes; how they overlap (see map below); and by staggering releases we have time to consider where to release so that there is maximum chance of male and female range overlap, while still remaining aware that little is known about what happens if/when individuals meet.


The green represents the den sites and range of a wild male, the blue and black are released females and the red is a released male.