Pangolin project in Brunei – July 2015
It is estimated that over the past decade more than one million pangolins have become victims of the illegal wildlife trade yet Brunei remains one of the last strongholds for this species. In July 2015 I worked with 1stopbrunei Wildelife Club (http://www.1stopbrunei.com) and the full report of the activities can be found here: A strategy for pangolin conservation in Brunei
The pangolin has been reported in all four districts of Brunei, namely Brunei Muara, Tutong, Kuala Belait and Temburong. the highest number of recent, confirmed sightings has been from the urban areas in the Brunei Muara district, when the animals are found in houses or seen crossing highways. 1stopbrunei wildlife has released 11 pangolins between 2013 and April 2015. Eight of these releases were animals found for sale online and ten were voluntarily handed over after entering people’s homes. Monitoring by 1stopbrunei Wildlife Club recorded 25 instances of pangolins being sold on social media in 2014 and 6 in the first half of 2015. Despite this the Sunda pangolin is currently not listed on the Wildlife Act (1984).
Several things were achieved during the short project. Firstly, Brunei’s first mini rehabilitation centre was built. It needed deep trenches filled with concrete so that any pangolin could not dig its way out! Secondly many Bruneian conservationists were trained in how to monitor pangolins (and other wildlife) after they have been released, an important aspect that follows international standards laid out by the IUCN. Participants learnt about radio tracking with Very High Frequency (VHF) transmitters and camera trapping.
Camera trapping is an excellent, non-invasive way of monitoring wildlife. Every time a pangolin was released a camera was set up to monitor if the pangolin came out to feed. A healthy pangolin changes where it sleeps every night so it is a good sign if we see the pangolin leaving, feeding and then not returning. This was the case for the two animals released in this project. We also saw evidence of them digging presumably to feed.
Historically, Brunei has been a safe haven for pangolins, however, interviews with locals across the country indicate that poaching is becoming rife. People who previously used to ignore pangolins if seen crossing the road or released if caught in a trap are now poaching them and sending them to Malaysia, often ending up at the border town of Limbang.
Pangolins are slow breeding creatures, they have one offspring at each birth, and their solitary nature also means that populations find it hard to recover when individuals are removed from the wild. As demand only increases and populations across mainland Southeast Asia are decimated, traffickers are looking further afield. Rapid rates of deforestation and development expose pangolins and their natural response to curl up in a ball makes opportunistic poaching easy and tempting – without adequate protection Brunei risks losing not just its pangolin population but other wildlife too. Wildlife we know is here as we have had the joy of seeing them on camera.