P27 activity patterns

In this release program there are two sets of data we are collecting to evaluate the success of the project: survival and the time it takes for the animal to establish a stable home range.

Our first female, P33, seemed to establish a stable home range of around 2 hectares after 22 days. This was regardless of whether the estimate was using only GPS den site co ordinates; only den site triangulation estimates; or triangulation estimates of den site and activity locations (although triangulation estimates did produce larger estimates of home range size).

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The above graph shows the changes in home range size after release for P33 using den site GPS coordinates

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The map above shows all the locations P33 (green stars = homed den sites; green circles = camera trap photos; red stars = triangulated den sites; and red circles = triangulated locations during activity).

P27, a larger male is currently has a home range size of 4.7 hectares. Over the first week he was showing much lower den site fidelity, moving every night. However, more recently he has been utilising den sites for two or three consecutive nights and the dens are a lot nearer. This insinuates that his home range is stabilising.

However, unlike the female P33, even if P27 use the same den site, he still appears to leave and then return. Last night we obtained camera trap photos of him leaving the den site at around 6pm and returning at around 9pm. With P33, if she used the same den site on consecutive nights, we never recorded her leaving the den, but changes in the radio signal suggested she was moving within the tree hollow.

At night we monitor activity by noting changes in the strength and/ or direction of the signal bearing, most nights the times we have concluded he is active using radio tracking accord with times the photos have been taken.

ImageThis photo shows P27 leaving his den site at 6.40pm and was photographed returning at 9pm. This matches what we concluded while we were camped 150m away listening to changes in the signal strength and direction. 

So far in our release program we have seen our pangolins climb up tree trunks and sleep tucked inside tree hollows. However, this morning we found P27 curled up at the base of the tree, after apparently trying to dig a burrow.

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Other species of pangolin are known to dig their own den sites, but Sunda Pangolins are thought of as more arboreal and this certainly matches what we have seen so far. He seemed completely unaware of us being there and remained curled up fast asleep; you can see how easy it would be for a hunter to grab him.

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With each release we learn something more about the behaviour of these animals and although they may only be small things we observe, it all helps build on our ecological knowledge of this species.

Why are we attempting a release?

So far the discussion on this blog has been focused on HOW we are conducting this release program but up until now, there has been very little focus on the WHY. With the release day approaching, now seems like an appropriate time to talk about this: What is it about this endangered species that means a release program should be considered as a management option for conserving this species?

Firstly, the Sunda Pangolin is listed on the IUCN Red List as ‘Globally  Threatened-Endangered’ (Duckworth et al., 2008). It is one of the most exploited animals in South East Asia, hunted for local use and to satisfy the demand for wild meat, scales and skin in Traditional Chinese Medicine. As confiscations can be of large numbers of live animals, not only do captive facilities run the risk of becoming quickly saturated but an opportunity is being missed to reinforce wild populations.

Secondly, Sunda Pangolins are adaptable animals and can survive in most habitats (Lim, 2007). It is a diet generalist (feeding on several different species of termite and ant each night) and known to be both arboreal (in the canopy) and ground dwelling (in tree hollows or underground burrows) in their sleeping habits. These ecological requirements can be met in relatively small areas in a number of different habitat types. Therefore, theoretically, there should be an abundance of potential release sites within its geographical range.

Finally, there is a severe lack of awareness regarding the plight of pangolins. A release project like this provides the opportunity to help address this problem and begin to stimulate an attitudinal change towards the trade of pangolins.

On paper, a release may seem like a fairly straight forward procedure. In reality, hunting pressures and habitat degradation and destruction make finding suitable sites harder than it should be; and the susceptibility of Sunda Pangolins to stress makes rehabilitation a difficult process.

However, Nam Cat Tien is known as one of the best protected areas in Vietnam, filled with primary and secondary forest in which to find suitable release sites (of which many have been found). Furthermore, the team at the CPCP centre have dedicated a lot of time over the past years developing methods and guidelines for the rehabilitation and release of trade confiscated pangolins with minimal stress to the animal.

It is this gentle approach and attention to proper preparation that gives the animals the best possible opportunity to survive and positively impact on the conservation of the Sunda Pangolin.

The journey to a new home

In the early hours of Friday morning a sleeping Sunda Pangolin embarked on a journey from Cuc Phuong National Park, northern Vietnam, to Cat Tien National Park, in the south of the country. This represented the next exciting stage in a long term project to rehabilitate and release trade confiscated Sunda Pangolins. 

The timing of the journey was critical, to minimize the amount of stress on the animal. By travelling through the day, the nocturnal creature slept comfortably as she went by car, plane and a short boat ride before reaching her new, temporary enclosure at Cat Tien National Park. 

The down pour of rain that met us on arrival provided welcoming conditions for the pangolin, who is used to the slightly cooler temperatures of the north. As expected when first introduced into the enclosure, she spent time sniffing and scent marking, getting used to the novel surroundings. A mixture of live and frozen ants were provided and she was left to begin acclimatizing to her new surroundings.

Throughout the project it is important to monitor the pangolin for any stressed behavior (e.g. pacing, not eating and climbing on the wire meshing of the cage). After leaving her for an hour or so, when she was next checked upon she had already tucked into the frozen ants that had been left for her, but was still active around the cage. However, when the researchers returned later on that night, they were relieved to see that she was asleep in the bedbox in the enclosure. 

The next four weeks are crucial as we continue to prepare her for the release into the National Park. Follow the story of how she does: find out about what needs to be done to prepare her for release, how we collect ants to feed her and the ecology and behavior of the Sunda Pangolin. Then stick with us to find out how she responds when released into the wild. 

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