Pangolins are a very elusive and rare group of mammals found only in Asian and African regions. There are 8 pangolin species in the world and according to the IUCN pangolin specialist group, all 8 pangolin species are threatened with extinction. To be more specific, all the 4 African pangolin species are classified as vulnerable and all 4 Asian pangolin species are either critically endangered or endangered. This is mainly due to illegal poaching for meat and use in traditional medicine. In 2016, it was revealed that pangolins are the most trafficked animal in the world. However, in the same year (2016) pangolins gained the global level protection under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) with the decision to uplist all 8 species to Appendix I. International trade in pangolins for commercial purposes is prohibited by law.
Sri Lanka is considered to be a global biodiversity hot spot which provides habitats for many rare and unique species and Indian pangolin (Manis crassicudata) is one of them. Generally Indian pangolins are found at altitudes of 1-100masl in other native countries. However, in Sri lanka they have been recorded throughout the lowlands and mid hills, up to 1,2300 masl, often coinciding with the range of termites.
M. crassicaudata was listed as Endangered (EN) by IUCN (2014) because it is suspected to be suffering a significant decline primarily due to hunting. The species is further listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This species is reportedly of variable abundance in Sri Lanka, but nowhere common (Phillips 1981). The species is rarely observed due to its timid, solitary, elusive and nocturnal nature. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy by local poachers. Despite its upgraded legal status some local poachers still illegally hunt pangolins and sell them to tourists and local diners as “bushmeat”. As a result of excessive hunting, Pangolins have been almost eliminated in areas where they stray into contact with people. The largest pangolin specimen ever recorded of any species in the world was found in Sri Lanka in 2019 during a raid of an illegal poaching incident, unfortunately the animal had been killed by hunters.
Very few studies have examined wild populations of other Asiatic Pangolin species elsewhere and information is scarce in available literature on M. crassicaudata in Sri Lanka. This lack of reliable data on pangolin distribution and population status has impaired the accurate assessment of their conservation needs. Considering their high vulnerability and the deficiency of population data, some researchers suggest that pangolins should receive a higher conservation priority.
The Pangolin Conservation Project was initiated by the Biodiversity and Sustainability Research Group of the Department of forestry and Environmental Science in 2014. The primary focus of the project is to protect Indian Pangolin Manis crassicaudata from poaching and over-hunting. Pangolin Conservation Project has three focal areas:
What are we trying to achieve?
The project has several long-term and short-term objectives:
- To Gather information on the behaviour and ecology of Indian Pangolin
- To more accurately assess population and territory sizes in specific regions
- Understand prey preferences and feeding habits
- Gain new knowledge on the population structure