Pangolins are among the world's most extraordinary animals. They are the only truly scaly mammals and their defense, when threatened, is to curl up into a tight ball with their overlapping scales acting like a suit of armour. Pangolins are adapted to feed exclusively on ants and termites and have long, sticky tongues, which they use to scoop up their insect prey. They are thought to provide an important role in the ecosystem, helping to regulate insect populations and aerate the soil with their digging.
Pangolins are highly evolutionarily distinct, representing over 80 million years of unique evolutionary history.
The entire group, which comprises only eight species (four in Asia and four in Africa), is threatened with extinction. All species are being poached for illicit international trade for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, and their scales which are used in traditional medicines, thus making them the most heavily trafficked wild mammals on the planet.
Demand for pangolins in East Asia has increased dramatically in recent years; one million pangolins are estimated to have been traded illegally in the last decade, contributing to population declines of up to 80 per cent in the Asian species and a subsequent increase in inter-continental trade in pangolins from African countries to Asian markets.
Supported directly with funding from Fondation SegrÃ©, the Fondation Segrè Pangolin Conservation Initiative will help to protect four species of pangolins - the black-bellied, white-bellied and giant pangolin in Cameroon, and the Sunda pangolin in Thailand.
Baseline data will be collected on the status and threats to pangolins at key sites in Cameroon and Thailand to help inform regular anti-poaching patrols and reduce incidences of poaching of pangolins and other threatened wildlife. The project team will also help build capacity to support better enforcement of laws relating to illegal poaching and trafficking of pangolins.
In China, the project will focus on reducing demand for pangolin meat and scales. Research into the nature of the demand will be undertaken in order to inform targeted social marketing campaigns aimed at reducing consumption.
This project will have the following primary outcomes:
1. Important pangolin populations in Thailand and Cameroon secured through effective patrol-based monitoring.
2. Poaching and trafficking of pangolins and other wildlife in Thailand and Cameroon reduced through intelligence gathering and more effective law enforcement.
3. Evidence base with which to inform demand reduction activities in China strengthened significantly.
4. Demand for pangolin products in China reduced through evidence-based social marketing and behavior change programmes.