Trip to pangolin rescue center showcases need to protect

Newborn pangolins are rare outside the wild, as stress prevents breeding in captivity. Right before I attended the International Fund for Animal Welfare co-sponsored conference centered on the oft-poached pangolin last month, I was given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Southeast Asia’s leading pangolin recovery facility – the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Project (CPCP).

The pangolins at the CPCP are there for a reason – they’ve been rescued from stifling shipping containers or poachers’ traps – and many require medical care.

But I’ve got to say, they’re a lot cuter than any animal that eats bugs has a right to be. During our nighttime visits they clambered over the logs in their enclosures, not shying away from us humans, but much more interested in the various termites and ants within licking distance.

The newborns are enough to turn anyone into a baby-talking pile of mush.

Located a three-hour drive south of Hanoi just outside the jungles of Cúc Phương National Park, the CPCP is about as distant as you can get from suits and ties and PowerPoints. Fortunately I brought shorts – and was schooled by a group of pangolin specialists from Australia (Dr. Leanne Wicker, her encyclopedic husband, Falk, and Heidi Quine), Zimbabwe (Lisa Hywood), and South Africa (Darren Pietersen).

Lisa Hywood and Luong Tat Hung provide care to a wounded mother pangolin and her newborn.Our host was Thai Van Nguyen, who heads up Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (the NGO that runs the CPCP), and his dedicated staff.  

All of these researchers played crucial roles at the following week’s conference, but it was at Cúc Phương that their knowledge was on full display.

Eight pangolin species exist across Africa and Asia, and although each has markedly different characteristics, some lessons in veterinary care and rehabilitation practices can be applied from one to the others.

Watching the researchers demonstrate techniques and bounce ideas and observations back and forth was a master class in animal rescue: we discussed everything from feeding (silkworm larvae…mmm) to reintroducing captive pangolins to the jungle. Because there’s so little research on the species, this meeting of the minds resulted in important, tangible outcomes that could pay conservation dividends for years to come. 

READ: This World Pangolin Day, meet the little known, but loveable critter

I won’t sugarcoat it, though: The way things are going, these remarkable animals don’t have too many years left. That’s why I’m proud that IFAW, in partnership with a coalition of NGOs, asked the US Fish & Wildlife Service to list all eight pangolin species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A successful listing under the ESA would boost conservation and education here and abroad, and help give scientists like Thai Van Nguyen a fighting chance against rampant poaching and habitat loss.

We’ll need your help to push this across the finish line, so please stay tuned for more on this important project.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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