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Last month, the Government of Nepal organised a national pangolin workshop to develop a road map for conserving the country’s globally significant pangolin populations. Four Pangolin Specialist Group members attended, each of whom provided crucial insights into existing pangolin initiatives and future conservation needs.

Two species of pangolin occur in Nepal – the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) and the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata). Both species are listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List due to a combination of poaching, illegal trade and habitat loss.

Nepal may represent one of the last remaining strongholds for the Chinese pangolin, as well as holding potentially important populations of Indian pangolin. However, despite numerous small scale studies carried out over the past decade, very little is known about the population status of the two species within Nepal.

The Government of Nepal has committed to addressing this knowledge gap through initiating a national pangolin survey to determine the status of the two native species and developing an action plan to protect them.

The April 2016 workshop was an important stepping stone towards achieving these goals. It brought together a wide range of stakeholders, from local pangolin experts, including Pangolin Specialist Group members Tulshi Laxmi Suwal, Prativa Kaspal, Ambika Khatiwda and Carly Waterman, to government officials, scientists and representatives from NGOs and local communities. More than 80 people contributed to the development of a road map for completing the surveys and action plan.

Pangolin workshop

Participants at the national pangolin workshop © Carly Waterman/ZSL

‘The Government of Nepal has an amazing track record of protecting rhinos with zero poaching in three of the last five years’ said Carly Waterman, Programme Officer and Red List Co-ordinator for the Pangolin Specialist Group. ‘I am delighted the government has now turned its attention to pangolins and looks forward to supporting the Government in its efforts to monitor and protect these important species’.

The four Pangolin Specialist Group members play a key role, presenting what was known about the habitat use and threats to Asian pangolins in Nepal (Tulshi), human-pangolin interactions (Prativa), status, distribution and methodologies (Ambika) and global pangolin initiatives (Carly). Following the presentations, there was a lively discussion on monitoring methods, priorities and next steps.

The participants supported stepping up community-based pangolin conservation, since most threats are thought to be happening in human-dominated landscapes outside of protected areas. Seasonal forest fires, excessive use of chemical fertilizer in farmlands, limited awareness among local and regional communities, deforestation, infrastructure development, poaching and illegal trade are all threatening the long term survival of the two species.

Typical pangolin habitat in the Kathmandu Valley © Carly Waterman/ZSL

One of the key recommendations from the workshop was to collect data on pangolin presence/absence from Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs). There are more than 18,000 CFUGs in Nepal, and collecting data from them on the likely presence of pangolins in their forests will help researchers to better understand the distribution of pangolins within Nepal. More in-depth surveys can then be carried out to identify strongholds in which to prioritise conservation action. Other recommendations included further research on pangolin ecology, genetics, population status, behaviour, human interactions and illegal trade.

‘The national survey is an important step forward’ said Ambika Khatiwada, Conservation Officer with Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation. ‘The next step is targeted conservation action. A two-pronged approach is needed; effective law enforcement is crucial to deter poachers and illegal traders, while sustainable livelihood options and outreach programmes will help to engage local communities in protecting pangolins’.

Prativa Kaspal, Pangolin Researcher and Lecturer at Tribhuwan University, echoed Khatiwada’s sentiments. ‘Both species of pangolin are protected in Nepal, and it’s wonderful to see they are receiving attention at the highest level. Over the past few years I have helped several local communities to create community-based pangolin conservation areas. I’d love to see the government support sustainable livelihood programmes in these areas. Such a commitment would reward the efforts of local people and further strengthen their conservation attitudes and perseverance’.