Camera trapping for pangolins is notoriously difficult to do. They are not restricted to pathways or ridge ways like larger mammals are and can move through the undergrowth quite freely. There are also several lures and baits available to attract other mammals, however, despite their strong sense of smell, the only smell that we have recorded pangolins being attracted to is that consisting of their captive diet, which is useless if looking for wild pangolins. We have tried baiting cameras with live weaver ant nest, but with no success.
I know of many long term surveys that have got pictures of pangolin, but we are talking a handful of photographs over thousands of nights of camera trapping. Even here, when camera trapping around an individuals home range, it is incredibly difficult to get a photograph. However, we have, on occasion, been lucky. Here are some of the photographs we have obtained and a few photographs of other species that have caught on the way!
So, after three weeks of tracking P26 left a present for us at the entrance of his last den site-the transmitter! It had snapped off, part of it still attached to the scale, but unfortunately, not the part that emits the signal. Although the transmitter dropping is a problem, I want to put it into perspective, this has still been a success.
Firstly, 5/7 of our transmitters lasted for over three weeks. So far, I know of three other researchers using radio telemetry to study Sunda Pangolin. The first was in Singapore where the habitat was a lot more open. Of 20 pangolins tagged only five lasted over a month. The other two studies on pangolins have been in lowland evergreen forest (same as here) and lasted approx. two weeks (one researcher working with released animals and the other wild).
Secondly, we have managed to get a photograph of 50% of the individuals after the transmitters dropped (see the photographs below) and we are currently camera trapping for the other 50%.
The first three to four weeks is the time period when mortality would be high if releasing them was not a viable option, in other cases that I know of pangolins released in poor condition all died within the first two weeks of release.
So what are we doing to look for P26? Well, the first step is putting a camera trap at the entrances of all previously used den sites.
The second is to bait them with frozen ants-the artificial diet they received in captivity and a scent they are used to. Below is a photograph of P34 investigating the frozen ant bait we left.
The final step is night spotting. This has yet to be successful for us in finding pangolin, however, we are going to walk along the open pathway, in the area where P26 was released. Furthermore, we know that he was regularly active between 23:00-02:00 so we will be out and about at that time to maximise the chance that we will come across him. Maybe if the voting by CNN readers is complete on deciding P26’s new name, I can see if whispering it as we walk through the forest on Thursday night will be successful in coaxing him into view!
Even if we don’t see him, here are some photos of the other wildlife we have come across while out night spotting, including common palm civet, porcupine, pygmy loris and viper!
I always used to be one of those people who didn’t like to put personalities to animals, I wanted to be a researcher and to anthropomorphize an animal was “bunny hugging”-oh how I have changed.
Since working with this project for over a year-each and everyone of these animals has a personality and in fact understanding that personality (or more technically, their behaviour) has really helped when it has come to releases. For example monitoring P26, the animal who is blissfully unaware of how famous he is becoming, has heavily relied on using what knowledge we already had about him to determine how well he is doing post release.
All our other released animals we have given about two weeks of exploratory behaviour before they start settling into their new environment. P26, being so shy, was given three weeks before we would start to worry. We knew he was alive, but was only moving sleeping sites every three or four days, not venturing very far and returning to a familiar den site.
Last night, while out in the forest we heard, via the signal his transmitter was giving off, that at 23:00 he was on the move, he was out of his den site and foraging. We have to track him remotely as trying to find him to watch him may have a detrimental impact. Once we know he is moving we going to three locations to take compass bearings of his location, from these we can estimate his location and use it to plot and measure his home range.
As we headed back out this morning we hoped that he had ventured to a new site, spread his wings a little, and we were not disappointed; he has gone on a jolly little jaunt, moving 170m. This is what appears to be “normal” behaviour for both our other releases and wild individuals-YAY!
However, true to form (and thankfully, if you have been following #changethelist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4sQSzYsdwU&list=LLqmPXhkjZaFcnfup2kPjvYA) he was still hiding from us! We know that from the strength of the signal he is inside the trunk of this fallen tree, curled up, right inside (or at least that is where the transmitter is!). He seems to be moving sleeping sites every three days. We are hoping beginning of next week he will move to a new sleeping site, we assessed the area before release and there are plenty around.
A potential entrance into the hollow tree trunk where he is sleeping (we have set up a camera near by to try and catch a photo of him when he leaves).
The point where the signal is strongest and where (hopefully) P26 is curled up inside asleep.
As part of their Change the List Project, CNN have been investigating the pangolin and the illegal trafficking that goes on in SEAsia. It is a lovely piece looking at so many different aspects of the problem pangolins face and what is being done to help across it’s range countries. Well worth a read.
Plus, you can enter a competition to name our very own P26!