Eastern Himalaya

Understanding Chinese Pangolin through Local Knowledge of the Adi community

Kuru Sunya

About Chinese Pangolin:

Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) is a medium-sized mammal covered in overlapping keratinous scales. The species is nocturnal and emerges from its deep burrow at night to forage while the majority of the day is spent resting or sleeping there. Pangolins are insectivorous and their main diet comprises ants and termites therefore also known as “The scaly anteater”. Chinese pangolins are fossorial mammals, therefore by constructing burrows, they potentially have an impact on a range of soil processes, including rates of mineralization, organic matter turnover, and aeration. Pangolin burrows are used by a variety of commensal species as a shelter and thermal refuge, such as monitor lizards, snakes, and foxes. The Chinese pangolin was once widely found in East Asia, northern Southeast Asia, and parts of South Asia. In India, it is restricted to the North-Eastern states, where it occurs across primary and secondary tropical and subtropical forests, bamboo, low mountain or hill forest, grasslands, and agricultural settings. Since it preys on social insects, it provides an essential ecosystem service by controlling ant and termite populations.

The TRAFFIC report suggests that an estimated one million pangolins have been poached in the last decade, making them the world’s most trafficked mammals. Habitat change combined with increased connections with illegal wildlife trade is believed to have led to a sharp decline in pangolin numbers by 80% across the species range countries. But particularly for the Chinese pangolin in Northeast India, a region that lies along several international trade routes, little is known about the population status and abundance. However, trafficking reports suggest that this species is under severe hunting pressure in Northeast India. The Chinese pangolin is now listed as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and Schedule I species on the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It is also a highly protected species under the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

This study is located in the largest river basin of Arunachal Pradesh of Northeast India, the Siang basin - the ancestral homeland of the indigenous Adi people. The study region encompasses three administrative units (districts) - East Siang, Upper Siang, and Siang. Within the study area, there are two types of forest tenure. The first comprises the community-owned and managed forests, and the second includes the PAs of D’Ering Wildlife Sanctuary and Mauling National Park, owned and managed by the State. The study also represents diverse habitats, e.g., riverine plains, agriculture, tropical and sub-tropical forests.

The Chinese pangolin was once thought to be widespread across Arunachal and are also known by different local names among the various tribes of the state like Sipit (Adi), Sipi (Apatani), Schichik (Nyishi), Hosik(Galo), and Akusoro (Idu Mishmi). However, there are almost no recent systematic data available on where the species presently occurs and it’s population status, impeding effective conservation measures. To protect the species, it is vital to conduct rigorous scientific studies and combine them with in-situ conservation involving the region’s many ethnic communities. Therefore as a first step, we seek to fill this knowledge gap by investigating where the pangolin is found, explore the socio-cultural-religious values and beliefs associated with the species in the Adi community and hunting pressure in the Siang basin. We will collect data on these issues through local knowledge-based interviews and camera trap surveys. Based on research results we will combine scientific evidence with local knowledge to identify priority sites for pangolin conservation in the study region. This project also hopes to lay the foundation for evidence-based and community-led conservation of this critically endangered species not only in the state of Arunachal Pradesh but across northeast India – a region that can be pivotal in conserving the Chinese pangolin as its numbers continue to plummet across Southeast Asia.

Landscape shot of Ratan village, Damro, Upper Siang