Kosin the infant pangolin has taken his first tentative steps back into the wild in Thailand. Thought to be under a year old, the pint-sized mammal had been snatched by poachers to sell on the black market and kept in cramped, dark conditions until he was rescued by staff from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and local park rangers.
Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked animal, prized by poachers and illegal traders for their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat, which is considered a delicacy by the uber-rich in parts of China and Vietnam.
Due to poaching, all 8 species of pangolin are now threatened with extinction, and listed as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Kosin is a Sunda pangolin, a species listed as Critically Endangered.
It is thought that more than 300 pangolins are taken from the wild every day.
Like rhino horn, pangolin scales are made from keratin, the same substance as our hair and fingernails, and like rhino horn they have no proven medicinal benefits.
It was believed that Kosin and others like him are kept alive to keep their meat and scales fresh, as they fetch a higher price alive than dead. A single pangolin is worth up to 3 month’s wages for rural villagers in Thailand.
However they are often kept in very poor conditions. Despite his ordeal Kosin was found to be in good health, and so was able to be quickly returned to the wild after a short period of monitoring.
Dr Eileen Larney from ZSL says, “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. 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.”
The ZSL team are continuing to monitor Kosin’s release site but are pleased to report that no poachers have been seen in the areas since his release. They are hopeful that he might be one of the lucky survivors of this cruel trade.
Given the windfall that even a single pangolin can bring to families in poverty, it is difficult to lay the blame solely at their doors however. Without reducing the demand for pangolin products, it will be hard to halt the illegal trade completely.
“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,” continues Dr Larney.
“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.”
Main image: Kosin stepping out into his new home. © Yingboon-Chongsomchai/ZSL Thailand