One of the other aspects of the project in Sumatra is to develop a rehabilitation and release program. Has pangolins are often so fragile when they are confiscated from the wildlife trade and so difficult to feed efficiently as part of the rehabilitation process, I am keen to tackle thee issues before we start dealing with animals.
The first part of this was beginning to investigate what they eat and see if there is a way to farm the ants at the rehabilitation centre to provide a natural diet for individuals before they are released.
While visiting the potential release site we asked an ex poacher to take us to areas where he had seen pangolin feeding so that we could take ant and termite samples and see what they pangolin may have been feeding on. There is no way to know if this is exactly what it was feeding on, but it is a starting point.
Once we have identified what anothe species are, we can look to see if there are ways to farm them to fed rehabilitating animals. Weaver ants have been successfully farmed using plastic bottles in Thailand, and there is potential to do something like this in Sumatra with both weaver ants and other species that we have identified from the forest.
This is something I hope to experiment with further when I am out in Sumatra in April 2017. In the meantime we are waiting to see if we are successful in securing further funding to build suitable rehabilitation enclosures and a quarantine block.
As the half term approached, it was time to start planning for a whirlwind trip to North Sumatra – an area where I was over the summer holidays. Thanks to Cleveland Metro Parks I secured some funding to develop a pangolin conservation program out here and felt that after the intial ground work it was important to head back and check in with people who I had previously met and see what the next small step could be.
The initial aim was to better understand the perceptions of local people and to find a location where we would be able to develop a release site for rehabilitated Sunda pangolin. We started this in the summer, with a trip to a local village called Kutamale. Thanks to a contact who lived there we knew that there were people who poached pangolin and we spoke to them the last time we visited. Over the past 7 weeks one of the poachers showed an interest in the work that we were doing, and after meeting him last time, and decided to stop poaching pangolin.
As he seemed interested in helping us, I decide to invest in a GPS from the budget. The plan was that he would take out the GPS when he went hunting for wild pig and if he saw a pangolin just mark the location where he saw it. A way of giving him a new skill and some responsibility but without preaching about not poaching pangolin and a way to see how he works. This is also incredibly useful survey information to see where and how often he encounters pangolin.
This week we went up there and showed him how to use the GPS. We also asked if he could help take us to areas where he had seen pangolin to collect some ants and termite samples. It seemed to be a very successful trip.
After we returned from the village we heard that a group of villagers had asked him if he would come out hunting with them and he had in fact said no. This was out of fear that if they saw a pangolin while out the others may take the animal, or may even go out later to collect it. He had made the decision independently that it would be better for him to go out by himself.
This is the sort of encouraging information we need and has not come from offering him a job, or giving him money to stop poaching pangolin but simply building up a relationship, paying him to take us in the forest, offering him new skills and developing a working relationship. We are definitely lucky to find someone like this and I am looking forward to seeing how this relationship develops in the future.