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The Pangolin Protectors

The Pangolin Protectors

Targeted victims of the international, illegal wildlife trade, pangolins are the world’s most trafficked species. In the fight to protect these unique animals is People For Pangolins, a recently established non-profit that aims to facilitate the conservation of all eight pangolin species.

For the second year in a row, in the run-up to World Pangolin Day on February 20, social media users found themselves being challenged to #pumpit4pangolins. Developed along the lines of the famous ice-bucket challenge, the campaign asked supporters to do 20 crunches, donate £ 5.00 to pangolin conservation and then nominate four friends to do the same.

Currently considered the world’s most trafficked species, it is estimated that 100,000 pangolins are poached each year from the wilds of Africa and Asia. All eight sub-species of this unique animal are threatened, with the Indian and Philippine pangolins listed as ‘Endangered’, and the Sunda and Chinese pangolins listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List.

The #pumpit4pangolins campaign served the dual purpose of raising the species’ profile in the public’s eye and raising funds for in-situ conservation efforts. Conceptualized and spearheaded by non-profit organisation People for Pangolins, the campaign received coverage from media organisations such as CNN and Africa Geographic.

Cara Tejpal speaks to Aakash Lamba, Co-director of People for Pangolins about the organisation, the campaign, and the cause.

A conservationist with an engineering background, Aakash holds an MSc. in Conservation Science from Imperial College, London.
Photo: People For Pangolins.

All three directors of People for Pangolins have studied Conservation Science atImperial College, London. What was the process of coming together and deciding to focus your attention on pangolins in particular?

The illegal wildlife trade was a major topic of discussion during the course. However, most of the case studies and research we came across were targeted towards the trade of a few charismatic species such as rhino horn and ivory. We were aware of the uncertain plight that pangolins faced as Alegria, one of our founding members had spent time working with TRAFFIC in Vietnam where she learnt about the massive scale at which pangolins were being poached from the wild. What was even more concerning was the fact that most people hadn’t even heard of these unique creatures that were quietly rolling towards extinction. Determined to fill this massive gap in conservation, we decided to start our efforts by launching an engaging awareness raising campaign which led to a series of brain-storming sessions and eventually to the conception of the #pumpit4pangolins campaign.

Has there been a marked increase in engagement with the campaign this year as compared to the last? Any highlights from this year’s campaign that you would like to share?

We’re quite pleased with the level of participation this year since we’ve received videos and donations from across the globe in support of pangolin conservation. A really exciting response to this year’s campaign was the fact that a number of artists and writers approached us with their pangolin related books, illustrations and crafts which we were happy to share across our social media channels. This increased interest from the artistic community was very reassuring and we believe that it indicates greater levels of awareness among the global community. Media coverage was also quite heartening and we are thankful to Sanctuary Asia and BBC Wildlife Magazine for featuring our work.

Proceeds from the campaign went to Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. Can you give us an idea of how much money was raised, and how funds will be spent on the ground?

We are still receiving donations and like last year, expect them to continue for a few more weeks. At this stage we are hoping to send around 15 million Vietnamese Dong, which would be extremely helpful in supporting the operations of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife’s rescue, and rehabilitation centre where pangolins rescued from the trade are nursed back to health and released into the wild.

People For Pangolins currently supports the pangolin rescue and rehabilitation work carried out by Save Vietnam’s Wildlife in the country’s Cuc Phuong National Park. Photo: Save Vietnam’s Wildlife.

Yours is a tight-knit team. What do each of you bring to the table?

Our four team members have very different backgrounds, which work really well for us. Elliot Newton, who is one of the founding members, has extensive experience of project management and fundraising for conservation initiatives within the UK and setup the Kingston Biodiversity Network in London prior to his engagement to People for Pangolins. His skills were invaluable in setting up the organisation and its structure.

Alegria Omedo, also a founding member, worked in Vietnam for TRAFFIC where she learnt a great deal on illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia and the need to address the demand for wildlife products. Her work with TRAFFIC and her MSc dissertation have steered her towards researching the role that behaviour change can play within conservation particularly for the trade in wildlife products.

Julien Draper, the newest member in our team, is our Sponsorship and Events Manager. Having worked in the motorsport industry initially as a racecar driver and then within sponsorship and public relations his skills will be vital for funding our conservation initiatives.

As for me, I trained and worked as an engineer prior to the MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial and hope to use my technical skills towards exploring technological solutions to address the illegal trade. Apart from this I have experience of working within conservation issues in India and will work towards expanding our pangolin conservation work to India, an important range country for both the Indian and Chinese pangolin.

And what is your vision for the short-term (over the next one year) and the long-term (over the next decade)?

Our vision for the next couple of years is to develop solid partnerships with groups working directly with on-the-ground pangolin conservation in both Africa and Asia. We hope to support these initiatives as well as help in filling any gaps, if needed by setting up new projects.

Our long-term vision is to form a global pangolin conservation network where expertise and knowledge are shared and conservation links between supply and demand countries are formed in order to tackle the illegal trade of pangolins. In addition, we are aiming to act as a charity which aids conservation groups to acquire funding through grants and donations to carry out their projects.

People For Pangolins co-director Elliot Newton holds a pangolin carcass that was found attached to an electric fence in South Africa.
Photo: People For Pangolins.

Finally, have any of you been lucky enough to see a pangolin in the wild?

Wild pangolins are incredibly hard to see and in fact Alegria is the only one who has seen live pangolins when she visited the rescue and rehabilitation centre run by Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW). Observing these creatures which were rescued from the illegal trade is what really moved her and led to our partnership with SVW. Julien and Elliot on the other hand had a much more shocking experience when they visited the 'BioBank' at the National Gardens of South Africa in Pretoria where they observed multiple bags of pangolin scales which had been confiscated from the trade. This goes to show the massive scale at which the trade is taking place. Additionally, they saw pangolin carcasses which had been found attached to electric fences, a major local threat in parts of South Africa. Wild pangolins, however, still continue to elude us all.

Read more: Social Media Campaign Draws Attention To Pangolins

                      Pangolin – Most Poached Species In India?

First published in: Sanctuary Asia.


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