Monitoring P26 and experimenting with different research techniques

Since the last post, our efforts have been focused on three main aspects: Monitoring P26; gathering as much data as possible about sleep site selection of released individuals; and trialing a method for tracking populations trends and fluctuations in abundance. 

Monitoring P26

This is done by keeping track of how much he eats, his weight, when he is active and what he does when he is active. At the moment it varies night by night as to how much he eats, but he feeds fairly early on, before 8pm. He is maintaining a weight of 8kg and his digestive systems appears to be fairly regular! We put up a camera trap at the entrance of his tunnel so we can note when he is active. We also watch him all night once or twice a week, so we can monitor his behaviour for indicators of stress and just get more of an idea about what he is like as an animal. He has not shown any stressed behaviours however, he doesn’t climb as much as the other individuals. This is good to note as it may mean he prefers den sites at ground level, but only time will tell. He often emerges a few times a night, for short periods, but doesn’t seem to be active after 2am. He will be released next Wednesday, so we will keep you updated on how he does.

Sleep site selection

To better understand the requirements of released Sunda Pangolin we have been collecting data about their sleep sites to try and figure out what habitat features may be important. At the moment these are all just general observations from a small number of individuals, but sharing this information is only going to help. 

The main factor that stands out is that the released individuals rarely climbed a tree to sleep in the branches, this is in contrast to the wild pangolin tracked where 94% (n=15) his sleep sites were in the branches of the trees. The difference could stem from a preference built up in captivity, where they sleep in an underground den.

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Pangolin entering the underground den used in captivity

The observations of the wild pangolin could be a result of the extreme historical hunting pressure; if those animals most easily accessible to/spotted by hunters are those in tree hollows and nearer ground maybe the only animals left are those that showed a preference for sleeping high in the branches of the trees, that may have offered a higher level of protection? Who knows. 

At 92% of sleep sites (n=36) there was a potential source of termites (usually at the base of a tree or in deadwood, rather than free standing mounds). All trees had a trunk circumference of more than 1m. Interestingly, ant nests were harder to locate and yet this is what they are fed in captivity.

We also took note of the micro habitat; proximity to a water source (or identifying plants that are found in areas where there is a lot of water in the soil); if the area was dominated by Lagerstraemia calyculata (which often have suitable tree hollows); and if the sleep site provided shelter from the rain. 

Armed with this information we went to random locations within each individual’s range (n=no. of sleep sites for that individual) and noted the presence or absence of features the features recorded at sleep sites (trees with a circumference > 1m; termite mounds; deadwood; tree hollows etc.) with the aim of working out if/what features are statistically important in sleep site selection. 

Tracking population trends

As individual pangolins cannot be identified we have been testing the use of camera traps and the applicability of an occupancy model to estimate abundance, with its potential use to track fluctuations in population (and evaluate the success of a release program). We wanted to trial it as we know that in the area there are at least four individuals (two released and two wild). As it is the dry season, we have also put cameras along the river bed in the sampling area, one at an isolated water source and the others along the dried up bed which provides a clear route to a major water source; it is expected that there will be more animal movement along these routes. 

Whether successful or not, all this information will help design and refine methods for surveying for Sunda Pangolin in similar habitats. 

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About sundapangolin

I am a Conservation Biologist dedicated to increasing the understanding of and respect for the pangolin and their habitats and empowering people to take action to conserve them. I spent 18 months working as Field Adviser monitoring through radio tracking released and rehabilitated Sunda pangolin with the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program in Vietnam. Since then I have been working on pangolin conservation in Brunei and Sumatra.

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