Over 350 million animals are taken from their homes and sold on black markets in an average year. The illegal practice brings in over $19 billion per year for smugglers (that’s a lot of cash), and the industry, sadly, is almost impossible to disrupt.
Indeed, it’s hard to find people willing to fight for animals that wear such hefty price tags. But sometimes, selfless decisions by good people can help keep those “valuable” animals in the wilderness where they belong…
In November 2016, students of Residence Hall 7 at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore were staring down the end of the semester. The last thing the the overworked students needed was an intruder in their dormitory common room.
But early that late-autumn morning, the first students in the common room saw light pouring through two messy foot-wide holes chipped into the wooden door. Something was in there that should not have been.
The students entered the room carefully, hoping the holes hadn’t been chipped away by some deranged fox or raccoon. What they saw, however, was a terrified animal curled up against the wall in a sea of broken-off door chunks. What was it?
When they saw the scared animal, however, the students knew they had two options: Call the right people who knew how to handle this particular animal, or make a lot of money. That’s because this animal was worth a lot to the right people.
The scared animal was a pangolin, one of the most highly trafficked animals on the entire planet. Countries like China use every part of the pangolin for designer clothes, delicate meats, and traditional medicines — each product carries a big price tag.
A single pangolin can sell on the black market for $1,000 — not a small sum to a college student. Because they fetch the big bucks, pangolins face critical endangerment, and only about 100 remain in Singapore. Yet, there was one on the college campus!
The kindhearted students didn’t cash in. They called the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), a charitable organization, which arrived just before 10 in the morning to deal with the poor, displaced pangolin.
The experts at ACRES supposed the pangolin found the dorm room after getting lost in Singapore’s “urban jungle” of sewage pipes, skyscrapers, and highways. Their goal, then, was to get the pangolin back to where he or she might be comfortable.
Ultimately, they took the animal to a forest not far from the university’s dormitories. There were “a lot of fallen tree trunks and rotting logs,” ACRES group director Kalai Balakrishnan said. “There will be termites here, ants for him.”
ACRES workers brought the pangolin out to the forest and opened the door to its crate, letting the frightened creature take its time processing the world around it. After a few moments of waiting, the pangolin made its choice…
The pangolin took off running! Hopefully, he or she never ended up back in a college dorm again…The moment required celebration. By calling ACRES, the students did more for pangolins as a whole than they could imagine. Just ask Dr. Sonja Luz…
Facebook / ACRES
In September of 2018 — about two years after the pangolin went to college — Dr. Luz, below, worked on a groundbreaking project in Singapore that recognized the importance of returning pangolins to the wild.
Her project was a bit different, though. See in early 2017, a Singapore resident found a 1-month old pangolin at a construction site in the center of the island. The rescuer named the pangolin Sandshrew (after the Pokemon character).
In May 2017, Dr. Luz and her team caught word of Sandshrew and devised a study for him: what if they released the pangolin back into the wild and saw how he readjusted (something the college-going pangolin had done unsupervised).
“This,” Dr. Luz said of her project, would be “the very first documented case in the world where a hand-reared pangolin is being released back into the wild and tracked.” They waited two years for Sandshrew to grow large enough to wear an audio tracking device.
By 2018, Sandshrew reached peak mass: a whopping 13 pounds, perfect for the radio device. But first, Dr. Luz “gave him more time for the re-wilding process to disconnect from humans. He’s quite feisty now — he runs away from the keepers.”
This project would be the first step of many in protecting pangolins and re-growing the population across Singapore — something those college students did when they called in ACRES to save the little one crashing their dorm.
Dr. Luz hoped Sandshrew would provide the experts information on a handful of conservation questions: where were its breeding populations? And how could urban planners work to preserve them?
Soon, the doctor and her teamed released Sandshrew and kept him under 24-hour supervision, so he didn’t get scared or kidnapped in the wilderness. Still, Dr. Luz’s greatest fear was for him to end up in “the wrong habitat” — like a college dorm!
Ultimately, we don’t know how Sandshrew and the party-hard pangolin of NTU ended up. But we can appreciate the excitement they experienced in their freedoms by checking out the first pangolin’s sprint into the wilderness in the video below!
Those college students and Dr. Luz all saved a pangolin’s life. Luckily, there are good people in the world who want to help the animals and not sell them.
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