Populations of the Sunda Pangolin, found in South East Asia, suffer severely at the hands of the illegal wildlife trade. Hunted for their meat and scales, reported confiscations of both live pangolins and tonnes upon tonnes of scales highlight the extent of the problem.
The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) has been rehabilitating live pangolins confiscated from trade at their centre in Cuc Phuong National Park. CPCP have now begun to evaluate the success of releasing these rehabilitated, healthy pangolins into a protected area in Vietnam.
A pangolin suitable for release undergoes a comprehensive health check and a VHF radio transmitter is attached to it to track its survival, home range and den site use.
As an elusive, nocturnal creature, collecting any ecological data on them is difficult, time consuming and day to day success in data collection is variable. A typical day includes: locating her den site and taking measurements of the tree hollow used in the morning and then returning at night to camp in the forest to record activity patterns and to locate their position during the active part of their circadian rhythm.
With our first release (P33) we were able to successfully collect data for just under a month, before we lost the signal. This left us with three possibilities: 1. the transmitter had broken; 2. she had been hunted by human or animal; 3. she had moved a huge distance in one night.
As soon as the signal was lost we went about setting camera traps at all her known den sites (and a few at other points within her known home range) and extended our search out in all directions, covering a total of 600 hectares (her home range so far had only been recorded at 2 hectares).
With patience, dedication and flexibility we were recently thrilled to confirm, 3 months after losing the signal, she was still alive. We obtained a photograph of a pangolin climbing into a tree hollow. More importantly it was clear to see that the transmitter was still attached and so we could confirm her identity. The photograph shows that she is in good condition and considering it was captured only 60m from the point where we released her, has settled in nicely to her new environment with little trouble in finding den sites and food sources of ants and termites.
Her survival of 4 months is the longest known for a released Sunda Pangolin in South East Asia; in fact many are released without any post release monitoring. The camera traps will remain active for as long as possible, baited with frozen ants, in the hope that we will be able to confirm her survival in the future.
In the meantime we have just released our second pangolin (P34), after watching her confidently wander off into the forest we have begun tracking her and will continue to do so until the end of the year. Next week a third pangolin (P27) is arriving in the park. He will spend a month acclimatising in a special enclosure before being released. We plan to release him near enough to P34 for a chance of their home ranges over lapping and them encountering one another.