After its rescue from the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, a rare animal, pangolin, is giving a tough time to the forest officials in the Nahargarh Biological Park near Jaipur in captivity. The endangered mammal has refused to accept any feed given by the park staff and is mostly spending time in a burrow, which it has dug out for itself.
The forest authorities, finding it extremely difficult to feed the animal, have made a global call and sounded nearly 40 experts in Africa, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, where pangolins live and have been recorded born in captivity. Some of them have responded and sent in their suggestions to keep the pangolin alive.
The Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), also called scaly anteater, has large and overlapping scales on its body. In the wild, pangolins survive on ants, termites and other invertebrates, such as larvae, flies, worms, earthworms and crickets, which are difficult to be procured in a zoo or in captive conditions.
Nahargarh Biological Park's Assistant Conservator of Forests Jagdish Gupta said the officials had tried to feed the mammal with a variety of foods procured from around the park. “We ordered a packet of worms from Ahmedabad and offered to it, but it did not taste them. We gave it pieces of raw as well as boiled egg, but it did not touch them,” he said.
As the Nandankanan Zoological Park in Odisha feeds its pangolin with its favourite food, red ants, delivered by tribals commissioned for this job, the park authorities were contacted for help. Mr. Gupta said the suppliers, who breed ants as reported, were not willing to send the food to as far as Rajasthan.
Pangolin is not commonly found in a State like Rajasthan and is threatened by hunting for its meat and various body parts, which are used in traditional medicines. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Indian pangolin as an endangered animal, but no significant material is available on its ecology, which is most misunderstood since ages.
Mr. Gupta said a small enclosure with hard ground, where the pangolin was kept last month, was apparently not favourable to the animal. It has since been released in a large enclosure, covering about 20 hectares, where a hippopotamus also lives, to let it explore the food on its own.
Among the foreign specialists who were contacted, Simba Chen, a Hong Kong-based expert on birds and habitats, responded and connected the Nahargarh officials with Taipei Zoo. Another expert, Gary W.J. Ades, head of fauna conservation department, Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden, Hong Kong, has responded in detail and provided information on what is being fed to pangolins in captivity at various zoos.
Dr. Ades suggested that the pangolin could be kept in a small area with deep leaf litter to make it more relaxed and fed with different mixtures in addition to placing a full polyarchic ant nest near it. Though the countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan have started developing ex situ husbandry protocols for pangolins, the captive breeding programme has reported very low success rate.
Tourism & Wildlife Society of India (TWSI) secretary Harsh Vardhan said the shifting of the endangered pangolin was a loss for Ranthambhore and a gain for Nahargarh.