Conservationists from Chester Zoo have captured the first colour camera-trap images of giant pangolins in Uganda ever recorded.
The zoo team, in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU), is gathering vital information about giant pangolin behaviour, ecology and habitat requirements that will help with the long-term conservation of giant pangolins.
Pangolins are protected by international wildlife laws that ban their trade, but they remain the most illegally trafficked group of mammals in the world. Their meat is considered a delicacy in many countries and their scales are widely used in traditional medicines, despite there being no medical benefit from their use. Pangolins, sometimes called scaly anteaters, are the only mammals in the world to be covered in hard overlapping and protective scales made of keratin - the same substance as human finger nails and rhino horn.
Working alongside the RFU, researchers from Chester Zoo have carried out a survey of Ziwa Sanctuary using camera traps and tracking techniques such as looking for footprints, burrows and other signs of the species. 70 motion-sensor trail cameras installed by the zoo have captured hundreds of images and video clips of giant pangolins, including the first colour footage of the species ever recorded in Uganda.
Stuart Nixon, Chester Zoo’s Africa Field Programme and Research Lead, said: “Being nocturnal, rare and very shy it’s only with new technologies such as high sensitivity trail cameras that we are able to learn more about how they live and interact with each other and their environment.
“The race is on against criminal networks that only value dead pangolins, to save this species and protect them well into the future.”
By collecting pangolin dung samples, the zoo’s conservationists are also gathering crucial information on the animals’ diet and hope to learn more about the genetics of giant pangolins. The team is also planning to fit satellite and radio tracking devices on the scales of giant pangolins to learn more about their ranging behaviour, feeding ecology and to help develop methods that allow conservationists to count and monitor them.
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