A two-month project looking for pangolins collaborating between University of Washington and Save Vietnam’s Wildlife using detection dogs has just come to the final stage.

The project:

Two teams of detector dogs, one dog and one handler each, from Conservation Canines in the US arrived in Vietnam to sniff out wild pangolin scat. Collected samples would then be genetically analysed from species and population, down to individuals level. The aim being to create the basis for a genetic population map, allowing authorities to identify where confiscations were originally taken from and therefore focus enforcement activities.

After a 2 month field project in 3 locations, from South Vietnam all the way to the North, the dog teams have finally returned to the US.

The findings:

Disappointingly, sample numbers throughout the project were far lower than expected; with only 1 wild Sunda pangolin scat sample being found in Cat Tien National Park. The teams trained the dogs using sites previously used to release captured pangolins, to ensure a greater chance of finding scat, however, even in an area where over 200 pangolins have been released over the years, only one released pangolin scat was located, along with one wild pangolin..

In Pu Mat, the teams found no wild pangolin scats, only potential burrows, poacher camps and wire snares.

To the North, in Na Hang protected area, again no scat was found, even though we had previously identified burrows and pangolin sign in the study area. However, they did uncover evidence of logging, snares and several poacher camps. Unfortunately surveys were limited due to the sickness of one of the dogs.

What this means:

In science even a lack of data tells us something! The results are by no means conclusive, but the low sample numbers could suggest a problem with this methodology in looking specifically for pangolin scat (perhaps that they often bury their scat), or that the population densities at the study sites have become so low that the chances for scat detection are equally low; or it may be a combination of the two factors.

Moving on…

In the search for genetic information about pangolins, and perhaps, for baseline population data too, it may be a case of ‘back to the drawing board’ to find methodologies that are effective with our scaly, noctournal friends

From March 2017, the project moved to another next stage: looking for living Chinese pangolins, their spoor and dens. Bryn, our Research Mananger and Dung, our Senior Field Researcher travelled back and forth between Na Hang and Pu Mat reserve’s forests.

Once completed the team will be able to identify the strongholds of Chinese pangolin and understand the conservation status of Chinese pangolins in Vietnam, which leads to further actions to save this species.