• DAY 274: MEET ‘LUCKY’ THE PANGOLIN

    Jun 27 2013

    Meet ‘Lucky’.

    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.

     

    What do I have to do to persuade you I'm cute??

    What do I have to do to persuade you I’m cute?? ‘Lucky’ poses for the camera. Most pangolins are far too shy to be photographed like this…

    And up....and...

    Lucky shows of his skills. And up….and…

    ...made it..

    …made it..

    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.

     

    A view up from the rather beautiful yet terrifying (at night) jungle walk to the centre.

    A view up from the rather beautiful yet terrifying (at night) jungle walk to the centre.

    CPCP

    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.

    The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program has huge enclosures in which to keep pangolins

    The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program has huge enclosures in which to keep pangolins

    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.

     

    Kind of undignified but if I have to pose like this to make people remember me so be it...

    Kind of undignified but if I have to pose like this to make people remember me so be it…

    Don't turn your back on me...the pangolins need you

    Don’t turn your back on me…the pangolins need you

     

     

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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 207: A SHOCKING READ ON FLIGHT TO JUNGLE GIVES ME MOTIVATION

    Apr 24 2013
    A recently released photo of a cheetah hunt in 1891. Wildlife hunting and abuse has a long history in India

    A recently released photo of a cheetah hunt in 1891. Wildlife hunting and abuse has a long history in India. Courtesy of the BBC.

    I’m on a plane to Bangalore to visit Kartick’s rescued bears.

    His sanctuary is some way into the jungle beyond the city. I like the idea of a jungle being just outside the city. It makes a change from Surrey.

    I’m flicking through a book that he gave me: ‘Handbook on Wildlife Law enforcement in India’.

    It is not something I’d buy for a beach trip but it makes uncomfortable reading.

    This is partly because I’m in a really small seat.

    This is ‘Spice Air’ (India’s answer to Ryan Air but with less room and more chilli in the food) and as the person in front leans back my knees fold towards my chest. I’m feeling terrible anyway –a cold from the UK along with all this insipid heat along with unmarked street food from the night before leads to some strange energy moving through my body.

    Not a snappy title but the book has bite.

    Not a snappy title but the book has bite.

    But it’s uncomfortable reading for two other reasons

    Firstly, for just how NASTY the illegal wild life trade is. And secondly, for making me realise I knew next to NOTHING about it.

    The illegal trade in wildlife is the third largest illegal trade in the world after drugs and arms. Estimates value the annual haul at $20 billion USD or even more. That’s a lot of money and a load of death. How exactly did a BBC-news-skimming liberal like myself know so little?

    Perhaps because the trade is fairly complex. Perhaps because the effects are not as vividly felt as bombs or as newsworthy as heroin.

    But the effects are just as deadly.

    The wildlife trade is not only the story of ivory and tiger skin. It is the story of peacocks being killed for their feathers, of owls being sold for witchcraft, of sharks being destroyed for their fins, of tigers being embalmed for wine, of baboons being slaughtered for bushmeat, of bears being sold for the ‘medicinal’ quality of their penises. It is a collection of stories that make up one terrible tale of animals being abused for man’s superficial ends: ornamentation, taste and (so-called) health.

    Man smuggles live eggs

    Man smuggles live bird eggs

    Depressing read

    The list of ways in which animals are killed – guns, pits, electric wires, nets, poison, leg traps, snares, is matched only by the list of animals that are killed – tigers, bears, elephants, rhinos, peacocks, leopards….and on and on.

    And it’s all getting so much worse.

     

    An elephant killed by electrocution. Grim

    An elephant killed by electrocution. Grim

    With increasing globalization (poachers can coordinate by phone and sell online) and better technology (easier international travel, better killing techniques) and relatively weak punishments for those that are caught (trading in narcotics or arms leads to much heavier penalities), more and more organized criminals are turning to the joys of stuffing pangolin scales down their knickers.

    Very little illegally traded wildlife is for the Indian market - it all goes abroad

    Very little illegally traded wildlife is for the Indian market – it all goes abroad

    Conservation vs welfare

    Many people argue against the wildlife trade on conservation grounds. I don’t see it that way. Although the pangolin itself is traded so ruthlessly that it is fast on the way to extinction I care more about the suffering of the individual. The pain of the pangolin forced into a plastic bag, transported inhumanely, killed brutally is what should upset us most. That pain multiplied many thousands of times over is more concerning than a statistic or downward graph in a newspaper of the whole species.

    Welfare is what upsets me. The eyes of this bird are sewn shut to stop it flying away.

    Welfare is what upsets me. The eyes of this bird are sewn shut to stop it flying away.

    Now I understand why Kartick dedicates his life to busting the criminal networks involved in wildlife crime. Although India doesn’t consume wildlife like China does, this countries need for money along with its criminal and corrupt underclass means that wildlife here are suffering grotesque levels of misery.

    From BBC

    From BBC. My camera is better than this.

    Maybe I should man-up and join Kartick on a rescue after all. He keeps whispering to me that a bear cub will need rescuing in a few days. ‘when we have all the intel together’.

    I’m ready.

    Except I think I have bronchitis.

    Rhinos can bleed to death after losing their horns to poachers.

    Rhinos can bleed to death after losing their horns to poachers.

    NEXT BLOG: MEETING HUNDREDS OF RESCUED BEARS. BUT HOW AM I MEANT TO HELP?

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  • Day 184: MALI – THE ELEPHANT THAT EVERYONE WANTS TO SAVE BUT NO ONE CAN. YET.

    Mar 26 2013
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    Mali, the elephant everyone is trying to rescue.

    The zoo in Manila isn’t that bad. It’s just an archetypal zoo.

    In other words its downright depressing. 

    While we wait for the Mayor to get back in touch about our dog rescue mission (he’s doing whatever Mayor’s do when they are unavailable) we decide to visit the local zoo and see a famous elephant that has lived here in isolation for decades.

    She is called Mali.

    Everyone but everyone around the world has been trying to get this elephant out but she’s STILL here. Pacing up and down.

    Watching Mali - she kind of does the same thing over and over. Like watching BIg Brother on TV at 5am but with no sofa.

    Watching Mali – she kind of does the same thing over and over. Like watching BIg Brother on TV at 5am but with no sofa.

    Mali, the elephant everyone is trying to rescue.

    IMG_5901

    I find these photos kind of weird. Like my camera was possessed.. They are the closest thing I have done to war photography. Of course they are not war photography. But they do show the effects of a terrible between the oppressor and the oppressed.

     

    My main impression of this zoo is of concrete and flimsy fences. Everywhere you look there are vast animals – hippos, large ostriches, tigers and an even an elephant called Mali – that live mostly in isolation in very drab concrete enclosures protected by a poor permiter. The only thing stopping them jumping out is their learned helplessness. This place is the epitome of the zoo-prison, it doesn’t even pretend to be natural and for that sort of honesty you have to hand it to the zoo-keepers.

    Give them a single peso.

     

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    A local visitor getting into the mood of this crazy happy place.

    A local visitor getting into the mood of this crazy happy place.

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    And then Mali:  pacing up and down her bare cell. She’s been the subject of a huge international drive to release her. PETA have committed to flying her across the world to an elephant sanctuary and caring for the rest of her life and yet still the poor soul is still here.

    Why?

    Because the local mayor thinks that every zoo needs an elephant.

    TOMORROW: we wait for the green light to try and intercept the truck bound for the dog meat trade. Can we rescue any dogs? Can we get the mayor out of bed?

    IMG_5857

    IMG_5967

    Andrew crosses the divide. Kind of seems a little easy to get close to the animals at this zoo. And yet they are so so far away.

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  • DAY 148: ARRIVAL IN SPAIN! I MEET MY FIRST GALGO DOGS

    Feb 08 2013
    Charlotte Del Rio and her pack of Galgos that she rescued. Without her they'd be dead.

    Charlotte Del Rio and her pack of Galgos that she rescued. Without her they’d be dead.

     

    SUFFERING VS HUMANITY ….HUMANITY WINS!

    Only a few hours after arriving here in Spain I feel inspired, touched, energised.

    I’m just outside Malaga, south of Spain, in small, rural ‘finca’  -or farm house – surrounded by rescued Galgos (Spanish Greyhound hunting dogs) and the family of Charlotte Del Rio, the woman responsible for giving these dogs a new life.

    (Ann, you are right it is a little bit sunnier here than London)

    Click to read more >>>>

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