Pangolin poaching in rural villages

Over the past week I have been in the district of Tongka, an area in Central Kalimantan. This is an area where the locals are desperate to save their Ulin (ironwood) forest-to which they have strong ancestral connections.

Their income is generated from the forest, mainly the cutting and selling of rattan. They hunt in the forest for wild pig, deer and civet. Village law requires those who wish to hunt to ask permission from the village elder, and only then are they allowed to hunt once a month, taking only one species. Those within the village who violate this law are fined and those from other villages are fined and, if necessary, reported to the police. The theory is sound, although as with anything, there are those who rebel. Furthermore, they suffer encroachment from other trans-migration villages nearby and are fighting the threat of palm oil.

They do not view themselves as poor, however, food is not secure. Although in the recent fires they lost a relatively small 10% of their land, flooding from illegal logging by their neighbors and unsustainable farming practices put the future of the forest and their livelihoods at risk.

We visited with Jayadi, trained in the practice of permaculture, in an effort to try and build capacity for a more sustainable approach to producing food and generating income. I was there to provide two camera traps to place in the forest to try and record some of the species that the locals claim are there, include many non-Panthera cats, sunbears and pangolin.

So what about pangolins?

Within the village, over the past year, 8 pangolins have been poached, selling for what is the equivalent of one year’s salary (around 2.2 million IDR). If caught the village fine is 2.1 million IDR but the demand from the Chinese and price makes picking up a curled up pangolin, worth the risk – at the moment they never go hunting for it and they don’t eat it, the poaching is opportunistic.

From an outsiders’ point of view, we may be up in arms – we know this is a Critically Endangered species, the Sunda pangolin being at risk of global extinction. Now imagine you live an 8 hour drive away from the nearest town and have to hop on your motorbike to go and get phone signal; combine this with the insecure food and the fact that the forest that is the foundation of your community is under threat – is what is going on in other areas of the world really going to affect you? Would the loss of the pangolin matter?

To some in the community it does, it makes them sad that they might lose it. However, in their eyes, their hunting practices have not impacted on populations – due to the targeting of those fast breeding species, something the pangolin is not. You wonder though, because they talk openly about how the rhino was here and is now hunted to extinction.

The trip reinforced a couple of things:

  1. Alternative livelihood schemes are great, but they alone won’t save the pangolin. I believe they can be a way to build up a relationship with the village and with that trust the poaching may go down but, as I’ve said many time before, that’s about building up a relationship.
  2. Reducing demand is key. Once that stops, so will the poaching.
  3. While you should always stand by your beliefs, you need to listen and accept those of other people. Then you are in the position to work together and that is the most powerful tool in conservation.
  4. Patience is needed. It can be frustrating, but sometimes slowly, slowly is the only way; but slowly, slowly through many different avenues, can make a big change.

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