• DAY 294: RELEASING WILD ANIMALS FROM JUNGLE MARKET GOES A LITTLE WRONG

    Jul 14 2013

     After releasing a number of animals from a market in the middle of the jungle I’m wracked with guilt as to what happened to the poor turtle I put in the stream – or was it a tortoise??  I am such an idiot

    Is this a lesson in how we should be more compassionate…or simply how good intentions can be a dangerous thing?

    I once asked an expert for a very quick lesson in first aid in case I was in an emergency. He refused to give it to me on the basis that a little knowledge may be worse than no knowledge. It would be like arriving at a car crash with a box of sticking plaster and some string. Now I think I know what he meant…

    Post divide
  • 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

     

     

    Post divide
  • 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:

     

    Post divide