Ecology and Conservation of Pangolin Using Stable Isotope Forensics

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The giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea - Illiger, 1815) of the African lowland rainforest and savanna gallery forests is one of the world’s least studied animals. It is the largest of the pangolin species, with males reaching 38 kg, and in common with the other species is myrmecophagous, providing an important ecosystem service as a regulator of social insect populations. Our current knowledge of pangolins is hampered by their predominantly nocturnal lifestyle, the fact they use a complex system of deep inaccessible burrows, and further, their jeopardy by poaching and trafficking. We know little about their movements and population sizes, and our lack of knowledge about their ecology hinders our efforts to protect them.The intensification of poaching to pangolins underlines the urgency for developing analytic approaches that can help antipoaching efforts as well as clarify pangolin ecology. 

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Entrance of a giant pangolin burrow


Ruth Smith has just begun an IAPETUS2 studentship with us. She will exploit technical advances in stable isotope analysis to provide long-sought data on the ecology and life history of giant pangolins. The project has two main objectives, both driven by stable isotope analysis (SIA): 1.) to address knowledge gaps in the ecology of S. gigantea, and 2.) to exploit the potential of using stable isotope methods to forensically identify the geographic origin of confiscated pangolin scales.


Exploring a pangolin burrow


Dr. David Lehmann in front of a pangolin burrow



This is a collaborative project with the University of Stirling and the ANPN in Gabon. Preliminary work was highlighted in the Guardian newspaper here.

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