11.12.10

Our Research Project's Goals

The motivation for gathering data on the behaviour, habitat and survival strategies of the Cape pangolin in different environments is that an improved understanding of this mammal can help its conservation. For instance, a better understanding of this unique animal can help in putting together information sheets for the general public which can help conservation of the pangolin in its natural habitat.

Given the enormous quantity of ant and termite prey that one animal can consume, then despite its rarity and infrequent sighting, the elusive pangolin must play a significant role in fragile semi-arid ecological systems. A better understanding of the Cape pangolin can help our knowledge of other pangolin species.

In previous research, radio-telemetry tags, infrared-triggered cameras and intermittent visual observations have been used to find out more about pangolin behaviour. These techniques, as compared with automatic GPS or satellite location logging, severely limit the continuity and type of data that can be obtained on the animals’ movements, activities and locations. Moreover, as the animals are nocturnal, then tracking their movement through the bush at night using short-range radio telemetry is both difficult in a harsh terrain and potentially dangerous because of the presence of other game, especially predators!

The goals for our pilot study are to establish research protocols and to develop better tracking and relocation device combinations that will work for the pangolin without disturbing the animal, but will deliver the data needed over a reasonable period. Our pilot study has its research base at the Mundulea Nature Reserve.
Our immediate objectives are to:
  • Design, test and prove methods for tracking pangolins using special-purpose GPS-logging devices, augmented by RF telemetry and/or cellular GSM+GPS location-interrogation techniques to aid recapture e.g. to harvest the GPS logged animal data and change the batteries of the devices.
  • Get experience in the capture, device attachment/RF tagging and re-release protocols which are of least disturbance to the animal. (We do not plan the permanent capture or killing of any animal.)
  • Collect small-sample data on 2-4 animals’ activity and location patterns, eg to improve the initial estimate of the hours of its night activity, in order to improve the efficiency and duration of further trials.
  • Prepare a initial correlation between pangolin locations/behaviour and the terrain, habitat and its prey species
  • Train local Namibian staff on procedures for visual identification of pangolin tracks, animal capture, tagging, release, re-capture for data download or battery exchange, re-release and data analysis.
  • Trial the use of movement or infrared-triggered cameras at active pangolin dens
Our longer-term aims include:
  • Finding ways to successfully release previously captured animals (mainly by poachers)
  • Assessing the suitability of techniques to gather other data e.g. on body movements and posture, temperature etc.
  • Using the results of the pilot to plan a longer, more extensive longitudinal investigations of the behaviour patterns, movement and habitats of more animals over a larger region of Namibia.
  •  Attempting to correlate the pangolin's foraging strategies with the seasonal activity and location of its prey species
  • Comparing our results with previous South African and Zimbabwean studies of the pangolin (They were conducted in high rainfall areas with a softer terrain for tunneling and where there are different predators.)
  • Discussing the results with other experts, publishing our findings and promoting our tracking and relocation techniques. The latter might find application with other, more endangered species of pangolins, e.g. in Asia, or indeed for studies of other animals

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