Experts Strategize on Wildlife Reintroduction

The pangolin is slow and has no teeth—its main defense is curling up into a ball on the dense forest floor. It’s an easy target for poachers looking to cash in on the mammal’s much-prized meat or the supposed medicinal qualities of the tiny anteater’s scales.

An estimated 10,000 pangolins are trafficked worldwide every year, making it the most trafficked mammal. Sunda pangolins were once common in Cambodia but are now listed as critically endangered after decades of hunting.

The plight of the pangolin and other protected species, and in particular the challenge of returning them to the wild after being rescued, was discussed during the 7th annual Wild Animal Rescue Network Conference at the Himawari Hotel in Phnom Penh.

At the four-day conference, which ends today, about 90 wildlife experts from across the region discussed their efforts to track and monitor the wildlife they rescue.

“Even though technology is improving, technology fails,” said Matt Hunt, chief executive of Free the Bears, a wildlife protection organization that co-hosted the conference.

Mr. Hunt also said that there is generally a lack of financing and skill among workers dealing with the re-release of the animals.

According to the Wildlife Alliance, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT), which works under the Ministry of Agriculture, rescued nearly 2,000 animals from the wildlife trade in Cambodia last year.

Animals that are native to Cambodia are released back into the wild, said Vibol Neth, an executive assistant at Wildlife Alliance.

“If you rescue two pangolins, you need to identify which habitat or forest they came [from], where they were poached from,” Mr. Neth said, adding that the animals must then be released back into that specific habitat.

“But the habitat needs to be well protected and safe,” he said.

However, according to Vuthyravong Khan, project manager at WRRT, such habitats in Cambodia are shrinking due to land seizures, limiting the protected areas in which animals can be re-released.

“It’s hard for us,” he said. “At the moment we only have two or three places that are suitable.”

For animals like the pangolin, which struggles to survive in captivity and faces the threat of poachers in the wild, the technology needed to protect them is often unavailable, according to Mr. Hunt.

“At this point, we need to get a more proper manner to track animals that will ensure their best chance of survival,” he said.

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