DAY 274: MEET ‘LUCKY’ THE PANGOLIN
So called because he is one of the very few pangolins to survive the illegal trade .
I feel fortunate too – most pangolins are shy, nocturnal and roll into a ball (and then die) when near humans. But this one has been in the rescue centre a while and seems to actively want to hang out with me.
It’s an odd experience to hold a creature that is so rare and little-understood.
Its scales are tough but underneath is a sort of golden dust that can be blown away in a single breath. Most pangolins perish within days, if not hours of capture .Even when they are confiscated and trasferred to a rescue centre most pass away.Their special diet of termites and their unique behavioural patterns and habitat are hard to replicate.
A blessing or curse?
This vulnerability is both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing because pangolins have thwarted all attempts to be farmed – thus avoiding the persucution that has befallen some bears in the bile farms of china. A curse because science has some way to understanding their role in the ecosystem and knowing how to keep the few that are in captivity alive. As is the case with the tiger, rare animals in captivity are an insurance against extinction : they can be re-introduced later.
Not the pangolin. Once the last is eaten, the Chinese businessman will put down his chopsticks, shake on the business deal and the pangolin ghost will float to heaven . Only in Tapei zoo are there reports of a pangolin giving birth to a baby that survives… but its a rarity beyond belief.
At the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Programme (CPCP) here in Vietnam they’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to look after their pangolins. They have less than a dozen here (which is a lot) but they take up a vast area and a lot of resources just to keep them going. Those that do well they attempt to reintroduce to the wild (in a secure park area) but its tentative stuff.
I am staying ten minutes walk away in the park hotel, a short walk through the forest. Since most pangos wake at night I walk at darkness in my shorts, terrified , luminous white jello. Every stick I see is a snake, every frog at least ten times its size.
Each pangolin has a large enclosure to itself with its own burrows, feeding stations, trees, sleeping hollow. Everyday they are given tasks to get their food – known in the conservation world as ‘enrichment’. Food is hidden in bamboo shoots, or under heavy stones or in new locations. Any animal in an enclosed environment will mentally and emotionally atrophy without new stimulation.
When the pangos wake up (randomly in the night) I get into the cage and take crap pictures with my torch. I’m not allowed to use a flash – whcih is handy because I forgot it. Being a professional photographer.
Take a careful look at ‘lucky’. He is the lottery winner that didn’t expect the winning ticket. All the other pangolins won a free dinner… in a chinese restaurant.