• DAY 302: THE PANGO STING FALLS FLAT: I DELAY FLIGHT BY THREE DAYS ONLY TO MISS THE BOAT BY ONE HOUR

    Jul 23 2013

    There’s one fatal flaw to travelling round the world trying to help animals and writing a blog about it: stories start but they rarely finish.

    I find it hard to give neat Hollywood endings. It’s also find it hard to look like Brad Pitt when accidentally drowning a tortoise.

    Today we arrived at the cool darkness of the banks of the Mekong river to try and witness the illegal pangolin trade coming across from Thailand en route to Vietnam and then China. We got there at the painfully pointless time of 5:45am to find out that we had missed the haul by an hour. Neon lights flickered in the darkness and there were remnants of suffering. Large plastic crates littered the floor. My guide found out a few hours earlier they had been used to transport the poor creatures which were then transferred to bags and put in trucks.

    A 3 day delay to my flight only to watch a murky sunrise over the grey waters of this vast river.

     

    Time is constantly ticking.

    In a few weeks I have a self imposed deadline to start my work on farms and so must leave the pangolin story behind in exchange for some work on pigs that I am doing in Europe. More to follow.

    I was nervous about the filming today.

    I feel an unhealthy mix of excitement and misery every time I find myself pushed into dangerous and illegal situations for the sake of tyring to help or raise awareness. Why do I get into these situations? It proves that so many animals live at the torn edges of society – a place that should be inhabited by no-one.

     

    Not my photo. Obviously. But only today 137 pangolins were seized in Vietnam en route to China. Many were dead, nearly all will die. Get them out of those bags!! So f***ing sad...  (from vietnamesenews.vn)

    Not my photo. Obviously. But only today 137 pangolins were seized in Vietnam en route to China. Many were dead, nearly all will die. Get them out of those bags!! So f***ing sad… (from vietnamesenews.vn)

     

    Driving back home we saw a woman on the side of the road bent over a dog crying. The dog had just been hit by a bus. It’s face was crushed, neck broken at 90 degrees. A very common fate given that so many dogs are running freely along the roadside. I was surprised to see that level of emotion associated with animals out here. I suppose I’ve become a little too cynical. Of course people care, but their boundaries of compassion are different than ours.

    But everything is so bloody raw here. It gets to me. Perhaps if I stayed here longer I would become numb to it.

    What a terrible thought.

    Tomorrow I’m back to Hanoi where I’m going to visit some more markets in an attempt to save more animals before heading home. As a dear friend said to me recently upon being told of my rescue attempts

    ‘Martin, you are pissing into the wind’

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  • DAY 273: AND THE MYSTERY CREATURE IS….A PANGOLIN!!!! (never heard of it??)

    Jun 26 2013
    The young pangolin. Why do so few people care about these incredible creatures?

    The young pangolin. Why do so few people care about these incredible creatures? I am in Vietnam to find out.

    At a fairly young age we learnt that a good way to deal with misery in the world was to crawl into a ball. I guess we can blame our mother’s womb.

    But not much later we also learnt that crawling into a ball was not a good long term solution. There are still days when I’m tempted to roll under my duvet and look at my navel but I’ve learnt  that it is always more productive to get up and face the world.

    The pangolin never learnt this lesson. It is a small scaly anteater that looks much like a pine cone on legs and which has the dubious title of being the the world’s most illegally traded mamal and a creature you may never have heard of.

    A perfect ball!

    A perfect ball!

    Although Pangolins have nice wide eyes they mostly use their noses to find their way and food.

    Although Pangolins have nice wide eyes they mostly use their noses to find their way and food.

    That is because for 70 million (70 million!!) it has been gloriously successful at defending a solitary ecological niche by using its unique scaley armour to fend of all manner of attacks…yes, by crawling into a perfect ball. It is a marvel of survival. It has been around even longer than the Apple 1 computer.  Until now. While it’s defence mechanism is perfect against tigers it is not so good against poachers with a simple plastic bag. The creatures have no teeth and are completely defenceless against being picked up, put in bags, then traded and killed for their meat and scales.

    Pangolins are incredibly agile and strong and can hang from their tails whilst looking for food.

    Pangolins are incredibly agile and strong and can hang from their tails whilst looking for food.

    Pangolins are being decimated by the illegal wildlife trade at such a rate that David Blaine could well hire them for a vanishing act. Although the Chinese (yes, those pesky Chinese) have always had a taste for pangolin meat and held a belief that their scales (which are made of keratin, essentially no different from our fingernails) can cure all manner of ills, including DEATH, in the last ten to fifteen years the trade has boomed due to ease of international travel and communication.

    Baby pangolins already have very well developed protection and tails

    Baby pangolins already have very well developed protection and tails

     

    The baby pangolin will live on its mother's back for a number of weeks before being able to travel on its own

    The baby pangolin will live on its mother’s back for a number of weeks before being able to travel on its own

    Giddy-up!

    Giddy-up!

     

    Even if pangolin trades are intercepted they have very little chance of survival as the stress of the travel and their unique diets make them extremely vulnerable

    Getting into a ball does little to stop the traders picking you up. Even if pangolin traders are intercepted the pangolins have very little chance of survival as the stress of the travel and their unique diets make them extremely vulnerable to stomach ulcers and fatigue

     

    Out in Vietnam

    The pangolin is totally f**cked. Excuse my Swedish, but this is real bad.

    And I am out in Vietnam, one of the natural habitats and hotspots for illegal trade, to find out more.

     

    A VERY ROUGH MAP!! VIETNAM AT THE HEART OF THE PANGOLIN TRADE

    A VERY ROUGH MAP!! VIETNAM AT THE HEART OF THE PANGOLIN TRADE (and me lost somewhere in the middle)

     

    Experts that I have spoken to fear that some of the Asian species, of which there are four (there are four in Africa too) may become extinct in the next decade or so and that trade is now so unsustainable that it is moving to Africa where new flight paths can ship these defenceless creatures to….yeh, you guessed, it China.

    I’m totally enchanted by Pangolins. I hope you will be too after the next few days. They are the unsung hero of the wildlife trade. Curiously one of the main reasons they suffer is because no-one cares about them so there is very little public and therefore poltical will to stop the trade. They are not as sexy as Tigers or as grand as elephants or as charismatic as rhinos but …

    THEY ROLL INTO A PERFECT BALL.

    What’s not to like?

    Pangolins are often caught in a trap that consists of bamboo sticks that lead them into a net. Once they are in a ball they net is shut tight and they are transported - living - like this for days.

    Pangolins are often caught in a trap that consists of bamboo sticks that lead them into a net. Once they are in a ball they net is shut tight and they are transported – living – like this for days.

    Boiled

    Boiled

    Their name Pangolin comes from the malay word for ‘Roller’ in fact. And damn, are they cute too. They have no teeth, are deeply shy, come out at night, only eat termites and ants, climb trees, hang from their tails upside down, have little black eyes and get scared real easy.

    But when they are caught they don’t survive for long. They are driven across borders alive (living animals are always valued more), often injected with water to increase their weight or force fed the wrong food. They normally perish in a few days because of a)stress b)they can’t go to the loo when they are rolled up c) they can’t drink…

    (excuse me for a second while I take a breath…I’m sitting in a Vietnamese restaurant outside Hanoi eating spinach and rice and my neighbor just ordered a chicken. I suddenly heard the chicken squawk with a cut to the throat…phew, I’ve gone meat-free just in time)

    In China - and in Vietnam - pangolin meat is considered a delicacy especially amongst the business community. This is a rich person's past time with a kilo or live pangolin reaching up to 500USD on the market.

    In China – and in Vietnam – pangolin meat is considered a delicacy especially amongst the business community. This is a rich person’s past time with a kilo or live pangolin reaching up to 500USD on the market.

    The scales of Pangolins are stripped for use in Chinese medicine even though their efficacy has not been proved. Their meat is prized for food.

    The scales of Pangolins are stripped for use in Chinese medicine even though their efficacy has not been proved. Their meat is prized for food.

    A very silent pain

    OK…back to the pangos. The pangolins are suffering a vast and deeply SILENT pain that is getting worse by the moment. This is our last chance to try and save them and we can all play a part. While they may seem prehistoric or even mythical these are beautiful creatures and campaigners admit that a key issue is raising awareness amongst the public

    I want you to knock on your neighbours door and tell them that ‘Pangolin’s are bloody amazing’ and then get into a perfect ball and roll back to your house. We HAVE TO GET THE WORD OUT. Please…KEEP READING OVER NEXT FEW DAYS.

    I’m out here in Vietnam for two weeks to do my bit.

    What can I do? I have NO IDEA!!!! I’m really at a loss (ask Ann who I wailed to on the phone the other day saying I had no idea what I was doing)

    But I’ve come to a sanctuary in Cuc Phuong National Park where they have a wonderfully named ‘Pangolorium’ to meet some of these creatures and then follow my nose from there. They only have a handful of these creatures because they are so hard to keep in captivity but many many pangolins are harvested from or travel through Vietnam and Laos. If I don’t get anywhere I can always climb into a ball and I know I’ll be safe.

     

    MORE ABOUT PANGOLINS:

    A nice website

    http://savepangolins.org/what-is-a-pangolin/

     

    More specialist info:

    http://www.pangolinsg.org/

     

    WATCH DAVID ATTENBOROUGH LIST PANGOLINS AS ONE OF HIS TOP TEN CREATURES TO SAVE:

     

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  • DAY 266: A FLASH OF INSPIRATION FROM ANIMALS ASIA

    Jun 18 2013

    Last night I went to see a film by the incredible Animals Asia about bear bile farming. They do more work than almost anyone to end some of the horrendous animal welfare abuses in one of the worst places in the world to be an animal. It reminded me we all need inspiration from time to time. Read more about the horrendous bear bile industry here

    I met the legendary found, Jill Robinson – sweet and humble despite being recently voted one of the 50 most powerful women in China (yes, she’s a Brit). Everyone said I need to go to China otherwise I’d be missing the biggest welfare issue of our generation. Yes but I’m white and 6’4″ with no Cantonese/Mandarin etc etc.  Jill suggested I go and I’ll email her. How on earth I get access I simply do not know but I’d jump at the chance.

    animals-asia_1

    I haven’t forgotten about the badger cull but for now the shooting has not started. The government is no doubt waiting for the protesters to take their eye off the ball. They have a window of a few months and could start at any time. I’ll keep you posted.

    Next blog:  some photos from a friend of mine of another dog rescue centre

     

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