Celebrity endorsement for pangolins

Recently I have been writing proposals to continue fieldwork with pangolins in Vietnam with Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW). Throughout this process I am often asked by donors, “but what about demand reduction?” This is a valid point, SVW have included in their plans a community engagement aspect around field sites that we are working at and have just conducted a rapid survey in Hanoi of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shops and restaurants.

Pangolin on the menu in Hanoi. Photo credit: Save Vietnam's Wildlife
Pangolin on the menu in Hanoi. Photo credit: Save Vietnam’s Wildlife

However, demand reduction needs to be tackled at several levels. For example Education for Nature Vietnam (http://envietnam.org/) have the capacity to produce Public Service Announcements in major cities across Vietnam and larger international organisations can encourage national and international celebrities to drive an attitudinal change. By all working together and tackling different audiences we can really begin to make a difference.

However, I also believe that there needs to be an increase in communication between organisations and to bridge the gap between on the ground NGOs, celebrities and large corporations (and am on a bit of a personal mission to try and facilitate this communication). Since starting at Investec Asset Management I have started to see the role large corporations can have in conservation and today I became even more aware of the power of celebrity endorsement.

This morning I met Sharon Kwok, an Asian celebrity, who has worked tirelessly to reduce demand for shark fin, ivory and rhino horn across Hong Kong and in China. As a passionate conservationist she was already convinced that things need to be done to save the pangolin however, she also provided an excellent insight into the psyche of the Chinese and the best way to get your message across.

One of the main issues is that so many people don’t know what a pangolin is and for this we need to recruit ambassadors. The more Sharon talks about pangolin publicly, the more people in range countries across Asia will become aware. We can also use her statement supporting pangolin to get the attention of important embassies as well as spread word among other celebrity friends.

This is the start of a great opportunity, but it needs longevity to really make a change and we are busy making plans for our next steps.

Sharon and I after 3 hrs discussing pangolins and many other conservation matters!
Sharon and I after 3 hrs discussing pangolins and many other conservation matters!

Two pangolins rescued in one week

Sunda pangolin are critically endangered, most confiscations are of mammoth numbers of frozen carcasses or scales. When a live one is rescued it is a huge deal. Within the past week, thanks to Education for Nature Vietnam’s (ENV) hotline, there have been two reports of live Sunda pangolins. Both of which have been rescued by SVW and taken to the rehabilitation centre in Cuc Phuong.

Sunda pangolin rescued from a restaurant exploring its new enclosure at SVW
Sunda pangolin rescued from a restaurant exploring its new enclosure at SVW

One was from a restaurant and the other had been kept in a jewellery shop.

The pangolin seen in a jewlery shop that was reported to ENV.
The pangolin seen in a jewellery shop that was reported to ENV.

As slow breeding, solitary animals their rehabilitation and release needs to be carefully considered and managed. Populations in Vietnam are so low that reinforcement of wild populations is the best hope in creating pangolin hotspots and reviving the population. The hope is that after rehabilitation these animals will form part of the release program at a site where we know pangolins already are. This way we can release them in consideration of sex ratios and to maximise genetic flow within populations.

The confiscations happened almost immediately after the reports were made to ENV and it is brilliant to see the local authorities acting promptly on the tip off. Animals will spend a minimum of four weeks in quarrantine to observe for signs of stressed behaviours and nutrional stress.

The hope is that with ENV’s pangolin focussed public service announcement early next year there will be more stories like this.

Owston Civet awareness campaign

As well as pangolins, the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP, now known as Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, SVW) also work with other small carnivores, one of which is the Owston Civet. Like other terrestrail animals they suffer from the indscriminate snare trapping used by hunters. CPCP has been involved in the Owston’s Civet Breeding Program for many years in conjunction with Newquay Zoo.

One of the biggest problems is that people are not able to identify this species and do not know much about it. In order to try and tackle this SVW has produced a calander in Vietnamese that will be distributed among Forest Protection Department rangers. It is packed full of photographs and information to increase awareness. Calanders will be delivered personally and accompanied with presentations to the departments in the protected areas within the Owstons’ range.

Please help in the production of these calanders and donate to the cause-the deadline is the end of the month.