Status of pangolins in the Northern Eastern Ghats
Pangolins are among the most threatened species globally. Despite being widely distributed across the country as well as in parts of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, both the Indian and Chinese pangolins that are found in India are facing extinction. Their populations have crashed since the 1990s and the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Redlist status has gone from Lower Risk in 1996, to Endangered (Indian) and Critically Endangered (Chinese) in 2014, within a mere 18 years. Currently, all eight species of pangolins distributed globally (four in Asia and four in Africa) are threatened, with the four Asian species of pangolins being particularly close to extinction. Pangolins all belong to their own order Pholidota and family Manidae, highlighting their unique evolutionary history.
The greatest threat to pangolins by far is illegal hunting and trade. According to TRAFFIC and IUCN reports, pangolins are the most widely trafficked group of species globally, primarily for their meat and scales, for which there is high demand particularly in East Asia. In addition pangolin parts are frequently used for medicine and leather too. Often pangolins are also traded live. While China and Vietnam are the two largest markets for pangolins, they are also smuggled to other countries like the US and across Europe. Pangolins are heavily targeted for hunting across India, causing their populations to crash throughout their range. The demand for pangolins arises from widely held myths about pangolin parts having medicinal and magical powers, and are believed to help defend against black magic (their scales are made of keratin, the same as human finger nails and hair, and have no medicinal properties). Pangolin scales fetch steep prices depending on their size and condition. Live or whole pangolins are the most prized and are reportedly worth crores, as they can be smuggled abroad directly.
Despite being protected under international legislations such as CITES and Schedule 1 of the Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, the future for pangolins looks very bleak unless urgent measures are taken up to assist their population recovery and to curtail illegal hunting and trade. Pangolins are also highly disadvantaged by their own biology. They are solitary, reproduce slowly and give birth to only one young (mostly). They lack teeth and are completely defenseless against humans. Their sole defense strategy is to roll up when attacked, making it easier for humans to pick them up and carry them off. Very few studies have been done on pangolin population status, distribution and habitat relationships in the wild.
Status of pangolins in the Northern Eastern Ghats:
Funded by the Rufford Foundation (UK) and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, this project aims to assess the impacts of hunting on the Indian pangolin and to study its presence and distribution in the Northern Eastern Ghats landscape of Andhra Pradesh, India. Interviews are being conducted with local communities, particularly indigenous tribal groups such as the Koyas and Konda Reddies using semi-structured, open ended questionnaires to elicit information on pangolin sightings, behavior, local habitat preferences as well as to document various hunting practices and its impacts on pangolins and wildlife in general. Field surveys are being conducted across the landscape using camera traps and sign surveys, after identifying potential pangolin burrow sites based on information given by the local communities, to assess pangolin. The sightings recorded by local communities are being mapped using GIS software at a landscape level. Although the Indian pangolin inhabits a range of habitats, from natural forests to timber plantations, across a wide elevation gradient from sea level to 2000 masl, their specific microhabitat requirements are not well known. Hence, this project also aims to study the habitat characteristics that are conducive for their presence.
Past studies have concluded that standard ecological monitoring techniques are not effective for surveying pangolins in the wild, and the need for integrating secondary sources of information on their presence from local communities to determine their distribution. This secondary information is critical to identify and prioritize habitats for their conservation. Hence, this project also aims to map the distribution of pangolins across the country, as well as to map the threats from hunting and illegal trade facing the pangolin through an online survey. This online survey comprises questions about sightings of pangolins, location, age/size class of species seen, habitat, number of sightings and changes in sightings over the years, hunting attempts observed, and suggestions on measures that could be initiated for their conservation.
Three general articles (two in English and one in Telugu) have been published from the project (attached).
Aditya, V. (2019). Burrowing to oblivion: the crisis facing the pangolin in India. Protected Area Update, 35 (1): 24.
Pavan, K., Subhedar, R. & Aditya. V. (2019). Scale of the issue: The Indian pangolin is losing ground in the northern Eastern Ghats. Mongabay India.https://india.mongabay.com/2019/02/commentary-scale-of-the-issue-the-indian-pangolin-is-losing-ground-in-the-northern-eastern-ghats/
Two scientific papers are under preparation and one is under review.
A talk titled 'Integrating field surveys and community knowledge to assess the threats facing the Indian pangolin and its distribution in India’s northern Eastern Ghats' has been given at the Rufford India Conference, 8 – 10th February, 2019 at Ramnagar, Uttarakhand, India
Northern Eastern Ghats, Andhra Pradesh
Vikram Aditya and Dr. T. Ganesh
Project Team: Aravind Turram, Yogesh Pasul, Prashanth R