Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world. Widely targeted for their use in traditional medicine, poaching has long been seen as the main threat to the Chinese pangolin. However, an increase of forest fires is now threatening their habitat in Nepal. To tackle this, Tulshi will implement the first ever initiative to assess the impact of forest fire on the species, while working with communities on fire mitigation, habitat restoration and alternative livelihoods.
Nepal is home to two species of pangolin: the Chinese pangolin and the Indian pangolin. They have been found in 61 districts, mostly in the human-dominated landscapes of eastern and central Nepal. Both endangered globally, with the Chinese pangolin critically so, they are still highly threatened by illegal poaching and hunting for the trade of their scales and meat, despite being protected by national law. To make matters worse, forest fires are on the rise in Nepal, with an average of over 3,000 fire incidences annually. Mostly caused by human activity in the forest, including illegal poaching, hunting, and grazing, the fires are destroying pangolin habitat, with a general lack of conservation awareness exacerbating the issue.
Dr. Tulshi Laxmi Suwal has been leading pangolin research and conservation efforts in Nepal for over 15 years, conducting the first ever PhD study on the species in the country. In 2016, Tulshi led the National Pangolin Survey, and worked with the Nepalese government to develop a pangolin monitoring protocol and national action plan for pangolin conservation. Using this as guidance, Tulshi and her team at the Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation will be the first to assess the impact of forest fires on pangolin populations, covering three districts in central Nepal.
Integrating community needs with conservation priorities, Tulshi and her team will train local conservation groups on fire protection and habitat monitoring, and will restore fire-impacted forest by planting 20,000 saplings. They will raise conservation awareness across the region and support local incomes by offering micro-financing opportunities to develop and diversify livelihoods, reducing pressures on the forest. Results from this project will help to shape future fire mitigation measures, safeguarding the future of this charismatic but threatened species.
With her Whitley award, tulshi and her team will:
- Estimate pangolin abundance and population density and the impact of forest fires on the species across 4,000 ha
- Train 10 ‘Community Pangolin Conservation Groups’ to monitor pangolins and their habitat, and prevent forest fires
- Restore pangolin habitat by planting and monitoring 20,000 mixed tree saplings
- Raise conservation awareness, reaching thousands of households and over 500 schools in the region
- Provide microfinancing opportunities for 100 households to develop forest-friendly alternative livelihoods
- The Chinese pangolin has a large portion of unique evolutionary history and is #7 on the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species list.
- Pangolins are “good friends of farmers”, as they biologically control the ant and termite populations which harm crops.
- Pangolins are the only scaly mammals in the world.