The Need for Monitoring and Follow-up Studies after Relocating Pangolins

Oct 6th 2011: Stievie's sad story in the previous post highlights the need for long-term tracking studies after relocating a rescued pangolin. Many questions need to be answered here for improving the conservation of all the pangolin species, yet only one previous study, and that on only a sample of three Cape Pangolins, has been found in the research literature, viz Heath ME, Coulson IM (1997b) 'Preliminary studies on relocation of Cape pangolins Manis temminckii.' S Afr J. Wildlife Res 27: pp.51–56.

This paper posed many of the questions involved and noted that relocated pangolins have to be tracked for more than a month. (Heath and Coulson (1997) found that determining the size of the home range of a Cape Pangolin may take 85days). The issues remain unresolved, including:
  • Time, stress and distance covered in establishing a fresh home territory
  • Differences between male and female (possibly gravid) pangolins
  • Possible impact of the new animals on the home territories and stress of any resident pangolins
  • Respect of scent territorial markers or resolution of territorial conflicts
  • Mating betwen newcomers and the original stock 
  • Possible transmission of disease or dilution of the genetic pool by the relocated animals
  • Survival rates, depending on the animals' condition on release
It's wonderful when a large number of live pangolins are rescued from the terrible trade to China or Vietnam, as recently in Thailand when nearly 100 were recovered (see Guardian, Sept 26th). But, we must seriously wonder how and where the authorities will now try to release such a large number, whether they will do any follow-up monitoring studies on what happens to them, their survival rate or their disturbance to other existing resident pangolins, given that pangolins establish large home territories and suffer stress on being moved to a new place. Many will doubtlessly be in a very poor condition, possibly infected, so this is a major challenge in deciding whether or not to try to keep & feed them back to health (very difficult) and where relocations are attempted.

There seems a urgent need for sound research and monitoring studies of post-release rescued animals, their establishment of new territories, interaction with resident pangolins and survival rates. In Vietnam a post-release study of relocated pangolins has at last been initiated by the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) to develop international standard release guidelines and protocols for trade-confiscated Sunda pangolins. As outlined in their August 2011 CPCP newsletter, project activities include developing an environmental enrichment program in captivity, soft-release and monitored release into the wild. The project will produce release protocols for Sunda Pangolins which can then be used in Vietnam and in South-east Asia.

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