Last week I wrote about my meeting with Marc Ching, his work and how we, at Animal Mama, became collaborators rather unexpectedly. It’s been a fortnight and the three dogs he pulled from the meat trade, Alex, Lucy and Fox are with us, being treated and waiting for their time to travel to the US.
During our initial meeting, Marc also told me about a pangolin he was trying to get from a restaurant just outside Phnom Penh. Obviously, this sparked my keen interest immediately. As the Ambassador for Wildlife Alliance, I am well-aware of the illegal wildlife trade and the plight of pangolins in Cambodia and in other parts of Southeast Asia.
Here, these beautiful creatures are a prime target for a specialised restaurant menu and for the traditional medicinal markets. No doubt, only the most ignorant would expect any medicinal value to come from the scales of this small mammal and only the most uneducated would accept a meal of cooked pangolin, given that neither meat nor the scales of a pangolins have any particular value to humans. Pangolins are officially listed as critically endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and CITES.
Indeed, pangolins are the most heavily traded mammals in the world and the demand is still there. My partners at Wildlife Alliance have been rescuing pangolins systematically for decades, intervening before these poor animals become medicine for the ignorant – a harrowing prospect that if they are not protected, pangolins could be wiped out from the face of the Earth.
Most pangolins die after being caught or shortly after entering the trafficking route, within the first 24 hours. They are easily stressed, most die of shock, dehydration and starvation. Being exclusively an ant eater, they have to eat at least once in 24 hours and the meal cannot be anything else, but ants.
I first saw a mama pangolin adult and her baby during my visit to the Wildlife Release Station at the Cardamom Mountains. I was amazed to see this mythical looking, dragon-like creature, climbing down the tree of her enclosure, when the keepers served her favorite meal – the dish full of red ants. I was in absolute awe observing her and her little baby enjoy their feast, using their highly specialised long thin tongues to wipe a bunch full of ants off the plate.
Mostly nocturnal, the diet of these animals comprise almost exclusively on ants. Therefore in captivity, the chances of their survival are almost zero. The team at the Wildlife Release Station has developed a rather incredible way of ensuring that the food supply for pangolins is always available for the newly rescued: a bunch of freshly frozen red ants is always in stock. It is regularly picked and brought to the center by the “ant pickers” – new profession developed to cater to the needs of the most vulnerable of animals. And I found this method particularly innovative.
Marc had brought the pangolin to Animal Mama the next day and the animal was visibly in shock. Very pale, it was hiding away, tightly wrapping its thick tail around his head and back. We immediately put the oxygen near its nose, placed him in a crate and in a dark room. I called our Wildlife Alliance partners at Phnom Tamao and the fresh meal of ants was dispatched to ensure that the newly rescued animal had its dinner. We were all praying he would have enough strength to eat, climb and therefore, survive.
To my relief, after about two hours in the dark room and with oxygen, the pangolin ate and in best pangolin tradition, he climbed up to the top of the door, breaking everything in its path and making himself very comfortable. When I came too close to him, he let out a high pitched squeak – almost like a cry – letting me know that he wasn’t interested in making friends.
Next morning the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team arrived, ready to drive our exotic rescue to the Cardamom mountains, where the Wildlife Release Station is located. He is staying there now, until he is fully rehabilitated, secured with a tracking device and released back into the protected forest.
It is vital that all animal welfare and pet professionals in Cambodia inform the government and Wildlife Alliance if they spot wildlife in the hands of unauthorised civilians. It is our duty to report it to aid in wildlife survival. Remember, it is a crime to keep and trade wildlife in Cambodia and we all can and should be a part of the solution: call the Wildlife Hotline, inform Animal Mama or bring your wildlife to Animal Mama Center, where we will treat it, while working with our Wildlife Alliance partners to ensure that all wildlife animals have a chance to survive.
Another thing to remember is never buy the animals because you want to rescue them. Even though it will make you feel good about the one life you saved, inadvertently, you are fueling the illegal wildlife trade and in fact, you then become a part of the problem, ensuring that it continues to be lucrative for those who are profiteering from victimising the animals and destroying the environment.
Afterthoughts on meeting Marc
All in all, I am happy I had a chance to meet Marc personally. It made me think and reflect on the many different ways animal rescue work can be carried out successfully, especially when likeminded individuals and groups work together for the greater good and benefit of others. Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, which Marc is heading, has an unorthodox way of going about the rescues: Marc himself travels around the world, pulls the dogs out of the dog meat restaurants, sometimes, few; sometimes a hundred; and sometimes up to a thousand. He then connects with animal welfare workers and volunteers locally to get the dogs fostered and after they are ready, most dogs are shipped to the US, where according to ANWF are placed in adoptive homes and given love and care. Marc’s organisation pays for the treatment of these rescued dogs, their relocations and vet bills, and also their boarding.
One can easily scrutinise and criticise this approach, but the truth is, Marc is not hiding his activities nor the money that the foundation is receiving and spending. He chooses the personal strategies he prefers and as a grassroots method, it does make a huge difference – raising public support, getting necessary funding, raising awareness about the problem globally and changing the individual lives of dogs. Awareness raising is always costly and most NGOs will and do spend a lot of money for it, although we do not necessarily see it. If Marc does it through personal engagement – who are we to criticise his tactics if they yield positive outcomes?
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
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Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311