A Talk on the Wild Side.
Released pangolin finding its way in the wild. Photo by MENTOR-POP
Ichu Ichu Godwill of MENTOR-POP (Progress on Pangolins) tells us how the team's reputation as regional experts on pangolins is gaining traction.
This fall, Dr.Tobias Feldt, a postdoctoral scientist from Germany who is working in North-West Cameroon, contacted MENTOR-POP. “Two days ago, my landlord confronted me with the information that he had bought a ‘strange creature’ from a friend,”he told them. The animal turned out to be a white-bellied pangolin. The landlord planned to keep the animal and display it for tourists and little children. Upon receiving this information, the MENTOR-POP Fellows contacted other pangolin experts in Africa and the authorities of the North-West Regional Delegation of Forestry and Wildlife. In Cameroon, the giant pangolin is completely protected, while the white-bellied and the black-bellied pangolin have partial protection. Regardless of which pangolin, trade in pangolin scales is illegal.
Uncertain of the legality of keeping the pangolin (it would depend on the source of the animal) and realizing that the pangolin would likely not survive long in captivity, the landlord decided to release it back to the wild.
The pangolin was finally released to the wild in the Mbi Crater Forest Reserve in North-West Cameroon by the MENTOR-POP team, authorities of the North-West Delegation of Forestry and Wildlife, and Dr. Feldt. Says Dr. Feldt:
Francis Tarla, the MENTOR-POP Coordinator, provides a close-up look at the soon-to-be-released pangolin to the Conservator of Mbi Crater Forest Reserve and the North-West Regional Chief of Wildlife. Photo by Tobias Feldt
“I had never seen a real pangolin before in my life, but due to my interest in nature documentaries, I was quite aware of their existence in this part of Africa. So, it immediately attracted my attention when the owner of the place where I am staying for my research here in Bamenda mentioned that he had just purchased a ‘strange animal that rolls up when it is afraid.’ And it became clear from the very first moment that it would not be at all a good idea to keep it. Thanks to the international pangolin conservation family, it took only a few emails to raise the awareness of a global network ofconservationists for my case. But the highlight came when I was invited by MENTOR-POP to witness the first release action ever carried out for a pangolin in the history of Cameroon. It made me very happy, and somehow proud, to see this little fellow being released into the wild again, where it belongs. Overall, it was a pleasure, and a gift, to experience this beautiful creature alive – and later in freedom. And I really hope that other people will still be allowed to share this experience in the future. Farewell, little fellow, and all the best for your ‘second life – and all the best to all pangolins for your future!”
Dr. Tobias Feldt (5th from right) and some members of the delegation that released the white-bellied pangolin. Photo by MENTOR-POP
Pangolins are unique in being the only scaly mammals. Unfortunately, they are heavily trafficked for their scales, which are used in traditional medicines, and their meat, which is considered as a delicacy in some parts of Africa and Asia. As the populations of Asian species have dwindled over the past years, traffickers have shifted to Africa to meet the Asian market demand, making the African species increasingly vulnerable to extinction. All eight species of pangolins have been up-listed to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meaning a complete ban in international trade in pangolins or their parts.
The MENTOR-POP Fellowship, an 18-month program organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, works with transdisciplinary teams to strengthen capacities to conserve pangolins in Central Africa.