Tracking P26-it’s real detective work

We always knew that P26 was going to draw on all our skills to be able monitor him and his survival and we have not been disappointed. As mentioned in a previous post we monitor each pangolin before release. This helped us to build up an idea of each individual’s behaviours and activity patterns so we are best informed about how they are doing post release. From watching P26 we always knew that he was slightly lazy, only emerging for short periods of time usually around 7/8pm and then between 11pm and 2am, again for short periods of time. 

After release we tracked him to a hollow underneath the roots of a tree. We don’t just track which tree the animal is in, but if possible whereabouts in the tree it is and then seeing if we can catch a glimpse of the animal. This was important for P26 as we suspected that it would take him a while to adapt and the only way we would be able to tell if he is surviving is by tracking small changes and small movements or changes in the orientation of the transmitter. 

After releasing him on the Wednesday we found him on the Thursday with few problems. Friday morning he was still in the same location and didn’t look like he had moved. We came back in the evening and set up camp 60m away. We had taken a bearing from this location in the day as a reference so we could tell when he was active at night. When we arrived in the night, the bearing was slightly different, we went and checked and although he was still in the same den site, the orientation of the transmitter had changed, hence the change in bearing. The first clue that he was still alive. This was reassuring as he was not active for the rest of the night. 

Over the weekend we tried to pinpoint the location of the transmitter as closely as possible. He was still essentially at the same tree, but he was digging underneath the roots and we could track where he was. When monitoring on Monday we noticed that at 12:15am the signal didn’t change in direction, but got a lot stronger. Again a clue that the transmitter had moved, possibly he came outside. Activity at this time fitted in with the time he was usually active in captivity. We didn’t go and look directly as we also know he is very wary of people and our presence would stress him. However, this recording was important as on Tuesday morning he was in the same location as Monday.

By Wednesday he had buried into the a neighboring tree and was in a hollow at ground level. He has been found here every morning since then but we have been unable to see him. So how do we know he is still alive? On Wednesday night there were changes in the signal between 1-1.30am and on Thursday again at 8pm and between 11pm-12.30am, fitting in with what we had seen in captivity. 

These changes are small, for example the signal sounding louder, or changes in the fade in/fade out of the signal (i.e. the signal can be heard over a much wider angle, but the calculated bearing remains fairly unchanged). It is purely our experience with the other five animals that we have tracked with a prior knowledge about P26 that mean we are able to use these subtle clues to monitor him.

In terms of feeding, we are not sure as yet about his feeding habits, what we do know is that he is a large individual and is currently not expending too much energy so not need to worry too much. We will continue to provision him with food, but to date he has not fed on them. It is also likely that within the tree hollow and under the roots he has access to ants or termites attracted by the rotting wood of the tree.

For any of you still not convinced he is alive this morning, with my head stuck right into a tree hollow, I saw the element of the transmitter. I tried to give it a little pull to see if it was attached to a body or not (we couldn’t actually see him). However, before I had the chance the element started moving of its own accord and we heard some movement. The transmitter is certainly still attached to P26 and P26 is still alive! 

 

 

 

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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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