Returning to the wild!
It’s a very exciting time in Vietnam! After being confiscated from the wildlife trade in 2010, the first of the Sunda pangolins held at the Carnivore and Pangolins Conservation Program (CPCP) has been released into Cat Tien National Park. EDGE Fellow Phuong, tells us more…
As you will remember, my EDGE Fellowship project is about developing and implementing international protocols for the release of trade confiscated Sunda pangolins. Over the last year we’ve been preparing for the first release by building the infrastructure for a soft release programme and providing behavioural enrichment for our captive pangolins, to prepare them for life in the wild.
Earlier this month, we moved the first pangolin to be released to the soft release enclosure in Cat Tien National Park and she’s spent the last month acclimatizing to her new surroundings whilst we carefully monitored for any stress behaviors (e.g. pacing, not eating and climbing on the wire meshing of the cage).
And then this week it happened! Our first pangolin was been released into Cat Tien National Park and we were ecstatic! But what is it about this endangered species that means a release programme should be considered as a management option for conserving this species?
Firstly, the Sunda pangolin 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. 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, 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 few years to developing methods and guidelines that minimise the 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. In the weeks to come, we will track our released pangolin (using the radio transmitting device that has been attached to its scales) and I look forward to updating you on its adventures!
You can watch film footage of the release here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=3030281773895&set=vb.199134146807749&type=2&theater and learn more about Phuong’s project on his community page.