How much do you know about our Wild WorkAs a not-for-profit conservation organisation, Auckland Zoo is committed to safeguarding our beautiful planet, all of its remarkable species and spectacular landscapes, for generations to come. We bring you #Wildwork Wednesday to show you some remarkable people undertaking extraordinary work in New Zealand and abroad.

What do an artichoke, a pinecone and a tiny dinosaur have in common? They are all nicknames for one of nature’s most elusive yet fascinating creatures. At first glance, you too may view the pangolin as a prehistoric anomaly, what with its body of overlapping keratin scales, but there is more to these mammals than just their unique appearance.

In both Asia and Africa, termites are extremely abundant. While these insects play a vital role in the wild acting as natural soil decomposers, they can cause a lot of damage when introduced to man-modified environments such as wooden homes and buildings. In these environments, termites feed on natural materials and continue the act of decomposing and recycling. This causes termite destruction which is both a costly and arduous fix. 

Thankfully, pangolins can prevent significant termite destruction as these bugs happen to be one of their favourite foods! Despite being fairly small in stature, an adult pangolin can consume around 300 grams of termites in one meal. By consuming a large amount of these insects, pangolins help protect delicate areas and help maintain a great ecological balance within them. 

While pangolins are busy hunting for termites, they use their hard scales for protection purposes. When threatened, the mammal tucks into a near-perfect ball which is enough to stop predators such as big cats from biting through its outer ‘armour’. 

Unfortunately, this protection tactic doesn’t hinder all predators. 

When rolled up into a ball, poachers are easily able to collect pangolins from source countries in Asia and Africa and take them for the illegal wildlife trade in Asia. Their scales are used for medicinal and ritual purposes and their meat is considered a delicacy around these parts. As such, pangolins have become the most trafficked animal in the world. Now all eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws, and two are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. One of these is the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica). 

To help save these remarkable creatures from extinction, Wildlife Alliance (WA) are working hard to safely rescue and release captured Sunda pangolins into protected areas around Cambodia.

Studies on wild pangolin ecology and behaviour are extremely limited and post-release monitoring of rehabilitated pangolins has been ad hoc due to a lack of funding. As such, data on individual survival and release program success rates are rather unreliable. 

To ensure future rehabilitation and release projects are completed most effectively, WA is conducting a one-year project focussing on post-release monitoring. Specifically, the difference between hard and soft releases. A hard release is when an animal can leave care with no further treatment required. On the other hand, a soft release typically involves continuous care for animals after release, particularly if they have been in rehabilitation beforehand. 

With funding from the Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund Small Grants Programme, WA will use radio-tracking to facilitate intensive monitoring of released pangolins to decipher how different release methods influence survival rates. The comparative results will be used to tailor WA’s rescued pangolin rehabilitation practices and protocols with the ultimate aim of maximising pangolin survival rates in the future.

This small grant will enable a scientific approach to understanding best practice in rehabilitating one of the world’s most threatened species and ensure the results are shared with the broader conservation community to enhance conservation outcomes across pangolin rehabilitation projects.

It’s great being able to support such important and influential work around the world – but we’re not the only ones who can help. Each time you visit Auckland Zoo you’re contributing to our conservation fund which goes towards amazing projects like the Wildlife Alliance and their work with endangered pangolins.