A series of photographs have captured the heart-warming moment a rescued young Sunda pangolin took his first tentative steps after being released back into the wild in Thailand.
The Critically Endangered animal was being illegally kept in cramped conditions and constant darkness by a poacher, before being saved by ZSL staff and local park rangers.
Nicknamed Kosin by his rescuers, the puppy-sized youngster weighed just 1kg and measured 67-centimetres nose-to-tail.
Believed to have been snatched at night by poachers searching for pangolins to sell, experts think Kosin was kept alive as the meat and scales of live pangolins reach a higher price on the black market than those of dead animals.
Following his rescue, Kosin was given a thorough health check and despite his ordeal found to be in good condition. After a short period of monitoring he was ready to be returned to the wild.
The team from ZSL transported him to a remote, safe place as far away from known poaching hotspots as possible and have been monitoring his release site ever since. They are pleased to report that no poachers have been seen there since his release, giving Kosin, who is estimated to be under a year old, the best possible chance of survival.
“It was an extraordinary moment to watch Kosin being released back into the wild and then take his first steps back to the wild, but sadly his story is rare,” said Dr Eileen Larney, ZSL Conservationist. “Our team was able to get to him in time, care for him and return him to the wild. Thanks to the support of our donors and our incredible team he has been given a precious second chance, something many thousands of his species do not get.
“A single pangolin is worth up to three months’ wages for rural villagers in Thailand and is considered as valuable as a lottery win.
“However, to combat the illegal pangolin trade we must stop poaching at the source. It’s a complex puzzle which requires global collaboration to both reduce demand and increase protection. This story would have had a very different ending without the quick response of park rangers and ZSL’s conservation partners. Like all pangolins, Kosin faces an uncertain future but in moments like this we have hope.”
All eight species of pangolin are now threatened with extinction due to widespread poaching. Worldwide, pangolins are thought to be the most illegally trafficked mammal. A seizure of pangolin scales in April 2019 weighed 14 tonnes, representing about 36,000 individual animals. Estimates suggest more than 300 pangolins are poached from the wild every day.
ZSL is working in Thailand, Cameroon, Nepal, and the Philippines to protect pangolins and other Endangered species from illegal wildlife trade. The team collaborates with communities to raise awareness, find alternative sources of income and create protected habitats where pangolins can thrive. Find out more about the work being done by ZSL here.