Newly rescue pangolins often refuse to eat artificial food, therefore, we have to collect live ants from the buffer zone of Cuc Phuong National Park to encourage them to eat, speeding their recovery.
Collecting ants can be both a hard and easy task! It’s so lucky if the weather is nice and we can find ant nets. However, our job will become impossible if house owners don’t allow us to enter their garden. We often visit gardens that have fruit trees, such as longan, lychee, and mangos because ants often build their nests in these branches.
Today, we started collecting ants at 7 am. The weather seems quite nice, so we hope to collect ants more than usual for pangolins. 10 kilometers sounds a short way, however, moving in this mountainous area is not easy. Luckily, we are familiar with this area so it doesn’t take us so long to reach villages. We are quite lucky to find a house with a big garden. The house owner is an elderly lady, who agrees to help us. She asks us what the ants are used for and shared her story of a pangolin sighting from when she was a little girl. A lot of legends exist about this animal. Sadly, though, this elderly lady has not seen a pangolin since.
The tool we use to cut ant nests is like a giant pair of scissors connected to a 5 metre long bamboo rod. We use a pulley attached to a rope to allows us to opperate these giant scissors. Ant nests closer to the ground can be reached by hand. As soon as we collect the ant nests, we secure them in a large plastic bag which we close tightly so that ants can not get out. Sometimes we need to climb trees to collect ant nests, dropping the nests to a person waiting on the ground. We often need to visit 7 gardens to collect 2 full bags of ants (around 20-30kg worth).
It takes us a half of a day to finish this work. It is hard work if the weather is hot or it’s raining. However, the most terrible thing is being bitten by weaver ants. They always find the softest skin to bite; it hurts and makes us itchy. It’s all worth it, however, when we see our rescued pangolins eating, and we soon forget the ant bites and itches.