In a first, Madhya Pradesh radio-tags rescued pangolins

In a first, Madhya Pradesh radio-tags rescued pangolins

The Pangolin research team with the world’s first radio-tagged Indian Pangolin. (Courtesy: MPFD/WCT)

On the eve of the ninth World Pangolin Day, the Madhya Pradesh forest department announced the first-ever successful radio-tagging of the Indian pangolin. Two rescued animals were radio-tagged and released in the Satpura tiger reserve six months ago.

“This is the first case of successful rehabilitation of the species where the released individuals are monitored in the wild using telemetry,” said S K Singh, chief conservator of forests and field director of Satpura Tiger Reserve.

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The exercise was part of a joint project initiated by the Madhya Pradesh forest department and NGO Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) to understand the ecology of the Indian Pangolin and develop an effective conservation plan. The fieldwork is supported by the YES Bank under its CSR initiative.

Pangolins are the most trafficked wildlife species in the world. Commonly known as scaly anteaters, the toothless animal evolved an armour of scales and this unique protection mechanism has now become the main cause of its disappearance. The projected population declines range from 50 per cent to 80 per cent across the genus.

World Pangolin Day, celebrated on the third Saturday in February, is an international attempt to raise awareness about pangolins and bring together various stakeholders to help protect this unique animal from extinction.

Out of the eight species of Pangolin, the Indian Pangolin and the Chinese Pangolin are found in India. The Chinese pangolin is found in North-East India while the Indian Pangolin is distributed across India, except the extreme arid zones, Himalayas and the North-East. Despite protective measures, pangolins in India are widely traded both domestically and internationally.

“The Special Task Force (STF) of the MP forest department has been actively working to curb wildlife poaching in the state. In recent years, we have successfully busted pangolin smuggling syndicates which involved poachers and smugglers form more than nine states,” said Rajesh Shrivastav, chief wildlife warden of Madhya Pradesh.

“In anti-poaching operations where pangolin scales are recovered, those animals are already dead. Where live animals are involved, globally there is about 50 per cent death rate among released pangolins. This new initiative is to ensure better survival rates and thus have a positive impact on the population of this endangered species,” said Aditya Joshi, a wildlife biologist with the WCT who is overseeing this project.

“Very little is known about the ecology of pangolins. The project will provide first-hand data about their ecology. Right now we are also learning many things about them but it will be too early to say anything until the data is analysed,’’ said Prashant Deshmukh of WCT.

The research team reaches the location once the animals move away to study the habitat and whether and how much time they spent burrowing or foraging. “Once we have the spatial and temporal data, we will be able to protect the animal better by coming out with a conservation strategy,’’ he said.

Ritesh Sirothia of the STF said the wing has arrested 164 persons involved in pangolin smuggling from 12 states. Two accused are foreigners, one each from Lhasa and Myanmar. The accused include poachers, traders and traffickers.