By Withoon “Gai” Sodsai, EDGE Fellow, Thailand
I admit that I was in awe and unconfident when I was joining the EDGE fellowship program in 2016 because of my language skills. EDGE would be just the first experience where I had to work in an international environment. Another thing that scared me was studying a highly elusive mammal such as the Sunda pangolin. Why? Because I realised that they were hunted a lot due to their high value in the illegal trade around my study area in Thailand, driving them to become mythical creatures to the current generation. Very little is known about pangolins and their ecology. Although I had been working in tiger monitoring by using camera traps in the area, no pictures of pangolins had been recorded, so it was truly a challenge for an early career researcher like me.
After I received training at the EDGE Conservation Tools Course 2016 in the Philippines, my attitude was a little bit changed for the better. The training helped me figure out the most effective monitoring techniques. It seemed I had a plan to deal with this elusive mammal.
For the first step of the project, my team and I started with observing a confiscated pangolin at Mahidol University’s Veterinary Center for Livestock and Wildlife in Thailand. We took measurements of the different tracks it left behind so that we might be able to identify them while conducting field surveys. The following step was to train park rangers from SCL, who were going to work with us in the field, to identify evidence of pangolins. The training aimed to introduce project survey methodologies to the rangers, and highlighted practical activities of conducting field surveys. Also during this training, the study sites were prioritized and located by all participants based on their knowledge and experience with pangolins.
The first survey was conducted in July 2016. 40 camera traps were deployed in the study site and located where fresh evidence of pangolins was found or where it was highly likely that a pangolin was present. When it was time to change batteries in the camera traps, we went back and checked the pictures that all the camera traps had taken so far. Then there was a big “Yes!” We got it. One of the camera traps produced some pictures of a wandering pangolin coming to observe a tree hollow that the camera trap was focused on. This finding has given a lot of hope to the team that pangolins are still present in the area and that the methodology used is working.