Conservation and Cambodia's anteater

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Conservation and Cambodia’s anteater

by Nidhi Dutt


The pangolin suddenly becomes a tight ball when there is danger. (© Earthrise)

The pangolin has scales, and is very slow, but everyone loves it. It is a type of anteater from Cambodia. When people talk about endangered animals, they don’t usually talk about the pangolin. But sometimes they talk about it in stories about the illegal selling of wildlife in southeast Asia. About 10,000 pangolins are sold illegally every year.

There is not a lot of information about the pangolin. It is a secretive mammal. And it suddenly becomes a tight ball when there is danger. People usually talk about the Sumatran tiger or the orang-utan, two more famous endangered species in southeast Asia.

I found out about Conservation International’s work in the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia. This is one of the last small areas of totally natural wild land in Asia. The pangolin is the perfect animal to make people think about the need for conservation. It’s important to protect the natural area and get the local community involved. Pangolins don’t breed (have babies) well when they are kept in captivity. The only chance for them to survive is in the wild.

In the Cardamom Mountains, (in Al Jazeera’s environmental show 'Earthrise' ), they showed how important it is to involve the local community. Governments and international wildlife organisations can introduce many laws and regulations to stop the illegal wildlife trade. But this will not help if the local people do not agree to protect the animals.

I saw some hope in a quiet part of the forest. It was a mixed group of people: farmers, rangers, even people who used to hunt pangolins, all came together to make an agreement. Villagers agreed to protect the pangolin and to help stop the hunting for one year. In return, the conservationists agreed to help them with agriculture. When I asked the rangers why they ask for help from people who used to hunt, the answer was simple: ‘Because they know the forest so well.’

Making these community agreements shows how important it is to feel responsible. If a person owns something or has the responsibility of looking after something important, they will probably not destroy it or let other people destroy it. These community agreements give local people the chance to take responsibility for the cause and also the solution.

Government rangers and conservation groups are still important in these parts of the world. Local people may be the best way of fighting against poaching (hunting) and illegal logging (cutting trees). But we need something stronger to stop the big, rich organisations that are destroying the area and taking so much wood out of the forest. And that means forest patrol rangers.

The model I saw in the Cardamom Mountains is like a series of safety nets. There are local communities, government rangers and conservationists all working to solve one problem in many different ways. But it will take a long time and need a lot of energy. Maybe it will always be a challenge.

Watch Nidhi Dutt travel to the Cardamon Mountains in Cambodia to join rangers fight against poaching, help with community agreements and release a pangolin back into the wild:

‘Earthrise’ is Al Jazeera English's award-winning series exploring solutions to the environmental challenges we face today.


(This article has been simplified, so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).