The illegal trade in Asian pangolins and the destruction of their habitat has made these remarkable scaled animals one of the most endangered mammal groups in the world. Although African pangolins face their own set of threats, this section addresses the conservation programs for Asian species.
All 8 species of pangolins are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The four Asian species are listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered.
All 8 species of Asian and African pangolins are listed under Appendix II of CITES, which means trade is regulated and monitored under CITES, permits are required from exporting countries for any trade activity. To issue a permit, the exporting country must determine that this activity will have no detriment to the wild population.
As an additional protective measure, the CITES authority passed a zero export quota for the four Asian species, which bans all commercial trade in these species. However, other purposes (scientific, research, etc.) can still be authorized by permit. For the four African species, there is no zero export quota, which means commercial trade is not prohibited, but permits are still required.
Pangolins are also protected in their range states by domestic wildlife laws.
Despite these legal protections, pangolins are considered the most illegally traded mammal in the world.
Pangolins are difficult to maintain without expert care and thus rarely survive in captivity. It is crucial that conservation efforts focus on the areas where pangolins are being hunted to stop their removal from the wild. Several organizations are working with governments, wildlife authorities, and local communities to address pangolin conservation in several key areas.
Training Rangers and Wildlife Authorities
Enforcement efforts must be ramped up to deliver a real deterrent to the illegal pangolin trade. This means increasing the capacity of rangers and wildlife authorities in the areas where pangolins are being hunted by providing them with tools and resources to crack down on the trade.
In November 2008 the Pangolin Conservation Support Initiative sponsored the Pangolin Conservation Stakeholders Workshop in partnership with Conservation International in the Cardamom mountains region, one of the last known strongholds of the Malayan or Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) in Cambodia. By assembling the conservation partners and law enforcement agents tasked with conserving pangolins, PCSI and CI developed targeted pangolin conservation activities, thus providing the needed awareness, education, and networking necessary to advance integrated pangolin conservation efforts in both Cambodia and at a regional level. Visit the Workshop page to view photos and download resources from the workshop.
Improving the Biological Knowledge Base
Pangolins are secretive, solitary, and nocturnal, and many mysteries remain about their natural history and behavior. For example, there are no detailed studies on the population levels, ecology, or life history of the Sunda pangolin, Manis javanica. Meanwhile, little is known about the current distribution and range of the various other pangolin species.
A paper was recently published in the journal Endangered Species Research. “Pangolins in peril: using local hunters’ knowledge to conserve elusive species in Vietnam” is available for free online:
Several biologists are working to expand our knowledge of pangolins to better inform conservation efforts. Norman Lim of the National University of Singapore recently investigated the habitat requirements of the Malayan pangolin via radio telemetry, standardized census techniques and observation of tagged individuals in the field. For more on Norman’s work, click here. Norman is continuing his research on Asian wildlife at the University of California, Davis.
Dan Challender, who previously studied the Sunda pangolin with the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program in Vietnam, is pursuing a PhD focusing on the trade and conservation of Asian pangolins in 2010. He’ll be studying at the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) and working closely with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia. The aim of his research is to further understand the main threats to Asian pangolins: hunting for trade and habitat loss. It is hoped his research will permit a greater understanding of the behavior of trade chain stakeholders to aid in the determination of wildlife trade interventions. While informing conservation decision making pertaining to pangolins it should also shed light on ecological and biological parameters. Read more about his research goals at his DICE profile page, and keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates on his work.
Currently, Conservation International–Cambodia is gathering information about Asian pangolin biology and the illegal trade. It is training park rangers to identify pangolin hunters and traders, and is designing ways to crack down on illegal wildlife trade in the Cardamom Mountains. CI Cambodia is also participating in a project led by the National Cancer Institute at the U.S. National Institutes of Health to build a database of DNA samples from various pangolin species across Asia. Because the vast majority of pangolins die in captivity, rapid repatriation of seized animals to their original habitat represents their best hope for survival, and accurate determination of their origin makes this possible.
The major obstacles to combating the underground wildlife trade of Asian pangolins include a lack of awareness of the problem, lack of resources and capacity to implement conservation programs, and low prioritization by governments and local communities to take action. Communities and local officials need to be fully aware of the benefits of pangolin conservation so that they can become involved in conservation action.
Harapan Rainforest in Sumatra is aiding the conservation of pangolins through a wider program of site protection and broad biodiversity surveys, while developing programs with a strong focus on raising community awareness. Harapan Rainforest will be modifying materials developed by the Save Pangolins and Conservation International-Cambodia for the 2008 Cambodia Pangolin Conservation Workshop to raise awareness of pangolin conservation within Sumatra. Harapan Rainforest is internationally recognized as a center of excellence for the cost-effective restoration and sustainable management of tropical dry lowland rainforest. Protection and management of the area is shared by local communities, government and NGOs working together to ensure that the forest continues to support a wide range of unique plants and animals, provides a range of essential environmental services and enhanced livelihoods for present and future generations. The forest also provides facilities for nature-based tourism and high quality training and research.
Rescue and Rehabilitation Centers
Pangolins are difficult to maintain in captivity, and most die within a short period after capture. Most pangolin range states lack the capacity and infrastructure to care for injured pangolins that are seized from the illegal wildlife trade, and techniques to care for injured and stressed pangolins confiscated from the black market are still being developed. Conservation efforts must emphasize stopping the removal of pangolins from the wild, but wildlife authorities are constantly seizing live pangolins from illegal traders, so it’s key to develop ways pangolins can be treated and rehabilitated in captivity so that they can be returned to their native habitats.
The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP), located in the Cuc Phuong National Park of Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam, is pioneering husbandry techniques for rescuing and caring for injured and stressed live pangolins seized from the illegal wildlife trade.
The Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) in Cambodia has a pangolin program that has been running since 2004 when they built a special pangolin holding and breeding facility. They have the longest living Sunda pangolin ever to be hand-reared in captivity. ACCB also runs an environmental education program and conducts studies on wildlife use.
Partnerships for Conservation
Singapore Workshop on Trade and Conservation of Pangolins Native to South and Southeast Asia
The Workshop on Trade and Conservation of Pangolins native to South and Southeast Asia was held between the 30th of June and the 2nd of July 2008, at the Singapore Zoo. The workshop was jointly organized by the Singapore Zoo and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, with financial support from Wildlife Reserves Singapore. It gathered 75 participants from 15 countries representing CITES Management and Scientific Authorities, Police, universities, research institutes, international organizations, zoos, rescue centres and donors. The countries represented were: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, USA and Vietnam. The key objective of this Workshop was to gather a ‘steering group’ of government departments, non-government organizations (NGOs) and research institutions in Southeast Asia to raise awareness of the magnitude of the pangolin trade and discuss how to combat the illegal trade. The outputs included a list of recommendations and follow-up actions to be circulated among relevant organizations, which would assist enforcement agencies in prioritizing and focusing their efforts to halt this illegal trade.
The full report, Proceedings of the workshop on trade and conservation of pangolins native to South and Southeast Asia can be downloaded at http://www.traffic.org/species-reports/traffic_species_mammals51.pdf.
Watch the associated video “Pangolins in Peril” from TRAFFIC SE Asia.
Save Pangolins seeks to directly support the efforts of the key stakeholders involved in pangolin conservation throughout Southeast Asia. Our overarching goal is to raise awareness of an illegal trade that is largely still under investigation, and for which initiatives to address the issue are still in their infancy. Save Pangolins’ efforts include maintaining SavePangolins.org and our Facebook and Twitter accounts to spread the word about pangolins and the people working to save them; sponsoring the 2008 Cambodia Pangolin Conservation Stakeholders Workshop; as well as outreach and education materials development, including a species fact sheet for the Malayan or Sunda pangolin, a coloring page for children, and a poster campaign targeted to the Cardamom mountain region of Cambodia. We seek to stimulate awareness at local and global levels of this little known group of animals. We encourage you to modify our education and outreach materials for pangolin conservation efforts wherever you are. Contact us for more information.
Are you involved with a conservation program that should be listed? Let us know by contacting us.
Photo credit: A Malayan pangolin is seen out of its cage after being confiscated by the Department of Wildlife and Natural Parks in Kuala Lumpur in 2002. Photo by AFP/File/Jimin Lai.