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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Birth of a Pangolin

Forget about the National Zoo's latest panda... the baby that has most of the zoo community talking this summer was born in Florida this weekend.

Among the most endangered mammals on earth are the pangolins, the eight species of so-called "scaly anteaters" that inhabit Africa and South Asia.  Harmless, insectivorous, and nocturnal, their main defense from predators is their scaly hide, which allows them to curl up into an armored ball, much like an armadillo does.  Unfortunately, that offers little protection against those who would illegally collect them for sale in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

A major challenge in the effort to save pangolins has been the great difficulty associated with keeping them in captivity. Zoos have struggled to keep them alive, let alone create a captive insurance colony.  Not only has this limited the role of zoos in breeding the species, but it's made it difficult to know what to do with confiscated pangolins which are rescued (alive) from traders.  Turn them back into the wild?  They'll just be recaptured immediately.  Besides, often they are too weak and sickly by the time rescuers get to them.

Due to the difficulties in maintaining pangolins, most zoos won't even try, refusing to create a demand for wild-caught animals which will further drain the wild populations.  Not even a few months ago, I received an email that had been sent out by the African Pangolin Working Group, an organization devoted to pangolin conservation,  to zoo directors, curators, and managers across the United States.  It advised us that we might have someone offer us pangolins in the near future - and that we should know that they did not approve of this project and encouraged us to decline their offer.

Until the day before yesterday, the only pangolin in captivity in the United States that I'd even known about was at the San Diego Zoo.  I'd never heard of this Pangolin Conservation Center in St. Augustine, Florida - perhaps they deliberately keep a low profile to protect their animals.  I tend to be a little leery of private, unaffiliated non-profits - I believe organizations can do the most good when they marshall their resources and work collaboratively.

Still, when an organization does the seeming impossible, I'm inclined to show some respect.

Congratulations to Justin Miller at the Pangolin Conservation Center for the birth of a white-bellied tree pangolin!  If this success can be replicated, both with this species and with others, it very well may represent a turn in the tide for pangolin conservation.


A newborn female White-bellied Tree Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) being weighed, photo by Justin Miller of Pangolin Conservation.

4 comments:

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  2. It should be stated that the email put out by the African Pangolin Working Group (and not the IUCN AS NOTED) contained many factual errors, that were corrected by several individuals within the AZA community, but it appears the African Pangolin Working Group failed to deliberately correct these errors before sending out the email. The IUCN Pangolin Group has not sent out any emails to the AZA or other organizations and currently remains on the sidelines in regards to pangolins in captivity, which the African Pangolin Working Group is against. The zoological community is in discussions with the IUCN to come to mutual understanding on what will be supported, and what will not, in regards to pangolins in western zoological facilities. The goal is to never work against such organizations, but to work with them. After all, everyone has the same goals. There just might be different ways to reach them.

    It should also be stated that Pangolin Conservation is working collaboratively with some of the top AZA public zoological parks to further understand and care for these animals. I can't speak for these organizations, but part of the agreements are for these facilities to utilize captive pangolins in the greats ways possible. To raise $$$ for field based conservation efforts, to study the captive animals so we have a better understanding of these species, and to introduce and educate the public on these unique animals. We're still a small organization, and truthfully, I have no goal to make us into something large. My primary goal has been to kickstart this project and hand it over to zoological facilities. That still remains my goal, and I'm proud to say that I now have a collaborative team of some of the top zoological vets, biologists, and nutritionalists in the world working with us to better understand these animals and publish the results so other facilities can build off our efforts.

    Cheers,
    Justin Miller
    Pangolin Conservation

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    1. You're right, it was the African Pangolin Working Group, not the Pangolin Specialist Group of the IUCN. THe article has been corrected to reflect this. Thanks for your comments, it's always so much more interesting to hear about these events from the primary source.

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  3. Justin- I would like to ask you a few questions about captive breeding of pangolins. I'm a student; doing a lengthy report on pangolins. You're the only one I've come across that has been able to achieve such an honor of successfully breeding a captive pangolin. If you are interested in contributing to my research, please email me, mrslund3@yahoo.com and congratulations and good luck with you and your team in the future conserving the legendary pangolin.

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