Ex-poachers and farmers work together to protect endangered pangolins

Manis tricuspis
CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 Valerius Tygart on Wikipedia

Pangolins are scaly, slow-moving anteaters that don’t have teeth. Their long tongues have a sticky saliva that helps them catch bugs. They are shy and nocturnal.

Besides these endearing quirks of biology, there’s a lot we don’t know about pangolins. That makes protecting their wild population particularly challenging and breeding in captivity difficult. According to the Pangolin Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, there are no population estimates “for any species of pangolin anywhere.”

We do know that pangolins face a number of threats, including poaching and habitat loss. Six of eight pangolin species are considered endangered or near threatened.

But a community effort in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains offers hope for this unique mammal. The project is bringing together conservation rangers, farmers and former pangolin poachers to protect these animals in one of their last wild habitats. Reporter Nidhi Dutt traveled to the Cardamom Mountains to learn more:

“Villagers fleshed out an annual agreement with conservationists to protect the pangolin and to help guard against poaching in return for agricultural expertise. When I asked the rangers why they would turn to a poacher for help, the answer was a beautiful no-brainer: ‘Because they know the forest like the back of their hand.’"

Conservation International is working with communities in Cambodia to fight unregulated hunting. They're also working on the issue from a judicial standpoint to ensure that poachers don’t escape prosecution. The organization aims to provide better economic options than poaching, and provide communities with a “more conservation-friendly livelihood.”

Dutt’s work is featured in Al Jazeera English’s Earthrise series. Some of our readers (unfortunately not those in the U.S.) may be able to view the series here.

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