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World Pangolin Day: project launched to save the elusive mammal

With funding from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, researchers and conservationists have launched Operation Pangolin in an effort to save endangered pangolins from extinction

The pangolin is the most trafficked wild mammal in the world, and is also among the least studied animals. This makes it difficult for experts to develop effective conservation strategies.

There are eight species of pangolins, all of which are protected under national and international laws. Even still, pangolins are illegally trafficked for sale of their scales.

Dr. Dan Challender is an interdisciplinary conservation scientist based in Oxford University’s Department of Biology and the Oxford Martin School who has been involved in pangolin research and conservation for 15 years. 

“In the last decade pangolin populations in Central Africa have been under increasing pressure from offtake for local use and international trafficking of their scales,” said Dr. Challender.

“This project has the potential to transform pangolin conservation, first in key locations in Central Africa, and then extending into parts of Asia. By taking an interdisciplinary approach and using novel technology and artificial intelligence methods, the project will give pangolin populations in these regions the best chance of survival.”

Matthew H. Shirley from Florida International University is the project lead for Operation Pangolin.“Without urgent conservation action at a global scale, all eight species of pangolins face extinction,” said Shirley. “Operation Pangolin is a chance to alter the conservation landscape for pangolins and other wildlife threatened by illicit human behavior.”

According to a press release, the team is developing toolkits for pangolin monitoring and data collection, a critical first step to prevent extinction of these evolutionarily distinct and imperiled mammals. 

“Accurate, actionable data is the foundation of effective conservation efforts,” said Gabe Miller, director of technology on behalf of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. “Operation Pangolin will provide a blueprint for how conservationists can turn data into solutions that address important issues like wildlife trafficking and the biodiversity crisis head on.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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