Today is World Pangolin Day, an opportunity to celebrate some of the most fascinating animals on Earth, and also some of the world’s most threatened. More than one million pangolins have been poached from the wild over the past decade, making them the most illegally trafficked mammals in the world. As a result, all eight species of pangolins are threatened with extinction.
But there is hope. Today we celebrate the emerging heroes who are working to conserve pangolins. Nine African and Vietnamese conservationists have been selected for the 2016 MENTOR-POP Fellowship program – a new initiative that builds capacity for conserving pangolins. Based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, the 15 month MENTOR Progress on Pangolins (POP) Fellowship will develop a trans-disciplinary team of early-career conservation practitioners to champion the conservation of pangolins in Central Africa.
The MENTOR POP Fellows undergoing training in Cameroon to become leaders in pangolin conservation.
The MENTOR POP program is a collaborative effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Zoological Society of London. Save Pangolins Co-Founders Paul Thomson and Keri Parker are playing key roles in the program—Keri developed the program concept with colleagues at USFWS, and Paul is one of four ‘Mentors’ from the international pangolin conservation community selected to train, support and guide the fellows through their adventures and work in Cameroon. He will provide on-site training in a variety of topics from conflict transformation to adaptive leadership and community-based conservation methods.
Why Central Africa? There are three species found here: the white-bellied tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), black- bellied tree pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla) and the giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea). The Asian pangolin species have been declining rapidly due to the demand for their meat, which is considered a delicacy. Plus, their unique scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine. As the demand continues to grow, and the Asian species are becoming scarcer, many traders are turning to the African pangolin species. In addition, the African pangolins are threatened by the regional and local bushmeat trade. Very little is known about the impacts of these compounding threats on the African species, and conservation efforts have been minimal.
Building a team of nine MENTOR POP Fellows is a promising approach to tackling the pangolin issue. The young pangolin champions will receive both academic and field-based training, internships, and experiential learning in best conservation practices. The Fellows will design and implement team projects to address the gaps in knowledge about pangolins in Central Africa and the threats to their survival. By cultivating future leaders with the skills, knowledge and networks to tackle the threats facing these species, there is hope still for pangolins.