Frequently Asked Questions
General Information about SVW
SVW was founded in July 2014 by Thai Van Nguyen who formerly worked as captive manager of pangolins at the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP). The CPCP is now managed in collaborative partnership with Cuc Phuong National Park and Save Vietnam’s Wildlife.
Many of the answers to this question are here
We work closely with government to advise on policies and advocate for law change.
We also provide training for Forest Protection Department and Environment on species identification, care, handling and legal requirements. This helps to improve law enforcement and placement options for confiscated pangolins. We work with other rescue centres to raise their capacity in animal care and work on many change behavior and awareness campaigns with multiple publics.
-Law enforcement- trying to assist rangers and police do their job and help them understand the importance of their job.
-Lack of good solid research about pangolins (ecology, husbandry)
In many ways, from negotiating release sites, training rangers, educating police of how to look after pangolins when they confiscate them (police will often just leave them in their nets and the animals are hungry and dehydrated). We work with government to advocate for law changes and law enforcement improvement.
During your time volunteering at our organisation, there is plenty to do and our staff can help organize activities, including providing transport and paying for entry:
– Cuc Phuong National Park
– Endangered Primate Rescue Centre (EPRC) is right next door. Here you’ll get to see a range of primates including the critically endangered Cat Ba Langur and Delacour Langur.
– Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) is just across the road. It houses a wide range of Asian species (almost 1000 turtles of over 20 species).
From Cuc Phuong National Park, you can easily take a trip to Van Long Nature Reserve where you can see Delacour Langurs in the wild, to Bai Dinh Pagoda, the largest Pagoda in Southeast Asia, or to Tam Coc, Ngoc Son and Pu Luong Nature Reserves.
In addition, about 8km from SVW you can have a trip to BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh where is not only a new home to bears rescued from bile farming and the illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam, but an unforgettable experience for learning and exploring in a natural setting.
Our centre is situated in Cuc Phuong National Park in the karst mountains of Ninh Binh province about 120 km south of Hanoi. It takes about 2 – 3 hours to get here from Hanoi and costs about US$ 5 – 75 depending on your choice of transportation (Bus: from US$ 5, Taxi US$ 65-75).
We can help you book a taxi to pick you up from the airport or your hotel in Hanoi. A one-way taxi costs approximately US$65-75.
SVW can be reached by public bus ‘Phu Duyen’ from Giap Bat bus station in Hanoi to Cuc Phuong at 3:15pm. Buses depart from Cuc Phuong to Hanoi at 5:30am, 9:00am and 12:30pm. A one-way trip costs 100.000 VND to 150,000 VND, depending on the bus. Contact of the bus : + 84 988 118 215
SVW can also be reached by Limousine bus Quang Anh (Tel: 1900-1985). It costs about 400,000 VND from the airport to Cuc Phuong and costs 200,000 VND from Center of Hanoi. However, this bus needs to be booked in advance so if you want to take this bus, please tell us, we will help you to book.
Daily working hours are from 7:30 AM to 11:30 AM and 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM. The volunteers are required to work five days per week (from Monday to Friday) and enjoy their free time to explore other places. Working on weekends are optional and needed to be organized with our staff.
We also offer night shift from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM for the ones who want to help feeding animals or observe their activities (our animals are nocturnal).
- Enclosure maintenance and cleaning. This includes assisting the keepers in general husbandry activities such as raking, maintaining gardens, keeping paths and gardens free of leaves and rubbish, painting enclosures and external walls when needed.
- Collecting and preparing animals diets
- Making environmental enrichment
- Monitoring animal behaviour and success of enrichment
- As a wild animal rescue can happen all the time, so it is hard to predict what opportunities may arise.
– 16 years of age or older
– current on your tetanus vaccination
– physically fit
– minimum commitment of 1 week
– ability to speak basic English
– good sense of humor
The fee covers your accommodation in Cuc Phuong National Park, three meals per day, rental phone and bike, WiFi, SVW t-shirts and volunteer program support costs. Any money left over from your stay goes directly back into the well being of the rescued animals and is used for materials for enclosure upgrades, food and enrichment for the animals.
All prices in are in US dollars and are per person per week.
1 – 2 weeks: $400/week
3 – 6 weeks: $350/week
more than 7 weeks: $300/week
As you will spend a significant amount of time working with wild animals, we highly recommend you to be vaccinated against tetanus.
Pangolin Rescue and Rehabilitation
Do you know of individuals who are likely to have pangolins, if so how do you deal with repeat offenders?
Yes, we do know of many individuals, shops and restaurants that illegally keep or trade in pangolins, it is still widespread here in Vietnam, but we are not an enforcement agency, enforcement is the job of police. We need to keep focused on our mission, which is changing the law, creating awareness of the issues in the community, getting enforcement to do its job properly and caring for and releasing confiscated animals.
Have you had any incidents which have been particularly dangerous? You could have possibly confronted someone about their animals and they wouldn’t let you take them?
We do not do direct enforcement and we are not vigilantes. This is the job of the relevant government departments. It is really important for us to work with enforcement officers, training them on conservation and legal issues and also training them on how to handle confiscated animals until we can get to them.
Once an animal has been found how do you go about saving that creature, what laws are on your side that allow you to take an animal? Do you offer payment? Or do people realise they have to give the animal up?
Again, this is the job of the relevant functional authorities here in Vietnam (ie environmental police, police, public security, customs, border defense forces). When someone reports suspected trading or sale to us, we report it to the police and stay in contact. If a confiscation does result, we go through the necessary processes in order to get the animal released to us. We do not endorse anyone paying for pangolins or their products even for research purposes or (media awareness campaigns). Paying for pangolins just sets up another market.
If you have heard of a larger number of pangolins being held somewhere, do you get assistance from local authorities?
Only government authorities have the right to arrest and confiscate. There is no agency in Vietnam that does this kind of vigilant work and no local Vietnamese conservation organisation would condone it. It is only by working with government and police and local people that we can find long term solution to the problems of enforcement
This video will provide some info that answers this question
We keep them in quality enclosures, feed them appropriate food and keep disturbance to a minimum. We have had over a decade of working with pangolins (our staff wrote the Sunda Pangolin husbandry manual) and we have learnt through hard experience what works and what doesn’t. Our pangolariums are really nice. They have sleeping boxes and then an area where emerge at night and roam and climb trees.
The other important thing to note is that we try to not keep them in captivity for too long. Our mission is to reintroduce animals back into the wild.
The illegal wildlife trade is a brutal business. Most of pangolins we receive are in very poor health. Main injuries are foot injuries due to 1) snare traps or 2) animal clutching onto tree while hunter tries to pull it away. We have seen them with tails snapped off due to abusive handling. They are also force fed corn meal or even gravel mix to make them gain weight (they are sold by weight). Some pangolins die before we can retrieve them from their confiscation locations, other we need to euthanize as their injuries are just too great. When operating within capacity approximately 72% of the pangolins we receive are returned to the wild. This is an extraordinary feat, given the condition they arrive in and pangolins notorious sensitivity to captivity. When our capacity is stretched and pangolins have to share enclosures, the mortality rise rises.
See answer regarding the condition we receive them in above. Also they are wild animals and they simply get stressed at being far away from their natural environment and behaviors. Many have been abused for quite a while by the time we get them. If we can nurse them back to health, they are fine once they get our pangolariums which are high quality. We have also been working with pangolins since 2005, we have learnt through hard experience what works (and what doesn’t).
What’s involved in feeding the pangolins? What and how much do you need? Describe collecting ant nests? How long does it take?
Newly rescued pangolins often refuse to eat artificial food, therefore, we have to collect live ants from the buffer zone of Cuc Phuong National Park to encourage them to eat, speeding their recovery. Pangolins prefer to eat Weaver Ants and termites.
When we have a lot of new arrivals we need lots of ants so we start collecting ants at 7 am. We may need to travel sometimes up to 80km in order to find what we need. Moving in this mountainous area is not easy therefore most distances are long distance in these parts.
Thư, one of our senior keepers is very good at collecting ants as it often involves climbing trees. Thư is a master tree climber. The tool we use to cut ant nests is like is like a home made branch lopper. It is a large pair of shears connected to a 5-metre-long bamboo rod. We use a pulley attached to a rope to allow us to operate the shears. If the nest is high, Thư or another of the keepers will climb the tree (sometimes as high as 10 metres) and use the lopper. The keeper will cut the nest from a branch, dropping the nest to a person waiting on the ground. We need collect 1 full bags of ants (around 10kg worth) to feed 2-3 new arrived pangolins a day.
Collecting ants is a time consuming business and we don’t have enough staff to have them full-time ant collecting, so we wean the pangolins onto a mix of frozen ant larvae and ground up frozen silk worm larvae. We buy this from Ho Chi Minh City and it is very expensive. It costs USD 10 a week to feed one pangolin.
We feed the pangolins the thawed frozen food from containers (much like an ordinary Tupperware container) which has a stone cap with a hole in it. These containers are often hung from trees in their enclosures, so they can climb for their food- like they would in the wild. We also have artificial termite mounds made from concrete which we sometimes use.
Once an animal has been safely brought to the centre, what are the first things you do before you start to rehabilitate that animal?
The animals usually arrive with health problems or injuries. Health problems: from poor diet (they are force feed corn meal or sometimes gravel mix) to make them gain weight- they are sold by weight); dehydration; stress from the conditions they have been enduring. Injuries: paw injuries are common, usually from snare traps or trying to hold onto tree while a hunter is prying them off. Some animals are so injured (neck wounds, tails being snapped off) they have to be euthanized.
Once immediate injuries are tended to, they are placed in the quarantine enclosure for 30 days, to ensure they are disease free and in good health. They are weaned from fresh ants (which are time consuming to resources) onto a diet of frozen ant eggs and larvae and pulverised silkworms which we buy from Ho Chi Minh City. Just prior to release we introduce them back onto to live ants.
We have a team of five keepers, two veterinarians and the animal manager. Their stories are on our website.
Our keepers are highly skilled all very wonderful and caring. All are local men, some from local ethnic minorities, and they are very experienced bushmen and animal lovers. We also provide in house training (including English classes, photography and taking tours) and we have international advisors who work with us on husbandry from time to time.
It depends on how active enforcement is being: sometimes once a week, sometimes once a month.
Do you get most of your information from members of the public who call the hotline? Do you have regular informants who call in?
Most of the rescues we do come from contacts in the police- who are working on their own operations. We also get calls from the public through our Hotline or to our office. This usually occurs when they find a sick animal or want to voluntarily surrender an animal. Once a businessman in Saigon was given a pangolin as a ‘gift’ and he called us and we travelled to HCMC to pick it up. Some people don’t know about the hotlines and just google us. We do not really have any regular informants.
Do you and your team go out into the field to look for animals in known trading areas? Are you recognised by the traders/poachers? Do they keep a distance from you or do they ever behave aggressively towards your team? Are there certain markets you can’t go to?
No, we are not an enforcement agency. We pick up after enforcement has done its job. One of the big problems is that enforcement often do not concern themselves with the welfare of animal and will send the animals to sub-standard rescue centres that do not have either the knowledge or capacity to deal with the very particular needs of pangolins (the pangolins die at these centres). Equally troubling is some rangers will just release a pangolin close to their station (the pangolin may have come from thousands of kilometres away) with no knowledge of whether there are resident populations or if the habitat is suitable. Worse still, some police stations just leave the animals in the nets and without food or water for days.
Size of enclosure: How many enclosures are there? How many animals can you have at one time in an enclosure?
We have 56 quarantine enclosures (which are designed to hold up to two pangolins- one per enclosure is preferred). We also have two pangolariums (which each have 4 larger enclosures – total 8) for longer terms residents. We only house one pangolin per enclosure in the pangolarium as they are designed for animals who for various reasons need to stay longer. (i.e., health issues or problems with finding the correct habitat for release) Pangolins require a lot of space as they are solitary animals. They sleep in a sleeping box during the day which has a tunnel that leads into their enclosures. At night they move into the enclosures for feeding and wandering about. Our facilities are the best in Vietnam which is one of the reasons we have such a high success rate with these very sensitive animals.
What is the maximum number of pangolins you have had at one time at the centre? And what is the average number you have there please? Are there always animals at the centre or are there periods when you have no pangolins in.
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In 2015 we received 43 pangolins in the space of two weeks which stretched our capacity. Some quarantine enclosures had to house 3-4 pangolins at a time, which was very stressful for both animals and staff. Pangolins are solitary creatures, who do not enjoy sharing the space. We had a higher mortality rate than usual during this event as not only we were over capacity but laws requiring us to hold pangolins as evidence for criminal proceedings prevented us from releasing pangolins who were recovered enough for release.
At any given time, we usually have between 10-30 animals. We do not have capacity to release pangolins one at a time, as they are usually released in locations quite distant from us where we have checked the area to make sure it has 1) viable pangolin population 2) rangers are effective at doing their job 3) we have negotiated all relevant government permissions to release. So we wait till have enough to make it viable and then release. In February 2016 we released 16 Pangolins bring to a total of 75 pangolins released back to wild in eight months.
The increase is based more on demand seasons rather than animal biology. In preparation for TET (which occurs in Feb) around November, December traders begin to ensure their supply chain is secure. However, pangolins are more active in rainy season and illegal trapping will also rise during this period.
No. There are no longer any wild population in Cuc Phuong National Park.
We do however release other animals, such as leopard cats and some civets, that have resident populations in the park.
How do you decide where to release them? What kind of habitat? Are they released together? In small groups?
We release the pangolins at night in dense forest habitats where wild populations are known to exist. The location is chosen based on suitable habitat and where rangers are diligent (and can be trusted to be discrete) and where hunting is not so prevalent (but hunting is everywhere).
They are released male, female, alternatively. They are released at least 300 metres apart to reduce the chance of overlap of the home range between males. If a mother and child is in the group, we release them together. We don’t disclose locations as these are critically endangered species.
We tend to do releases once we have 10 or more pangolins suitable for release as we have to travel long distances to the release sites. This entails hiring a bus and generally six SVW staff will go on a release trip. The whole trip can take between 2-4 days and they are very expensive as we need to cover costs of bus hire, wages for staff and eating while on the road. We usually sleep on the bus. Once at the site, rangers will assist us as carrying the boxes into the forest as it is an arduous business. The trek into the forest usually takes about 5 -6 hours as we need to go deep into the forest in remote locations. One person will lead cutting a path with a machete and the rest of us follow.
Each person carries a box on their back that contains a pangolin. It’s a tough part of the job, but we agree it’s the most satisfying part of our work.
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In 2015 we received 145. The number varies from year to year. Sometimes we get more than we cope with. In mid 2015 we received 43 pangolins over a two-week period and did not have adequate housing for all of them and experienced a higher mortality rate than usual. We will be soon (as of May 2016) be building new quarantine facilities, so that if such a large influx happens again we will be able to accommodate them properly.
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In recent years as laws have become more stringent and enforcement improves, the numbers of pangolins we receive and release is growing. Between June 2015 and Feb 2016, we released 75 pangolins.
We do not know. We are currently researching the best methods for tracking pangolins, so that we can identify if any of our released pangolins are re-poached and so we can learn more about their habits and ecology.
We’ve tracked 8 animals as a pilot project to determine the effectiveness of radio trackers. These studies showed that Sunda pangolins are solitary with a home range of up to 70ha and that they reuse sleeping sites which could range from underground burrows, high in tree branches, or inside tree hollows. All tracked pangolins survived while being tracked, however, some lost their devices after two weeks, while others were monitored for up to three months before transmitters dropped off. SVW continues to work developing appropriate transmitter with partners to improve the success of tracking process.
Resources and ongoing issue with determining which tracking methods are best means at this stage we only track specific animals. We would love to track all released pangolins are currently working with various companies and partners to develop the best methods.
Are the tracked animals released in one site together so the population is easy to monitor or do you have tracked animals all over the country?
We have been using radio tracker and camera traps which have severe limitations. We are currently investigating GPS tracking systems which would enable us to track remotely.
Do you have a team who stay on location with the released animals that are away from the park? Or do you visit the site to do status check?
We have stayed on site to the train rangers and then have done follow up visits
What is it you want to learn from your tracking research? Have you had released animals poached form the release site? If so how do you know and what do you do in that situation?
So little is known about the ecology of Asian pangolins. We need to understand more about how they live, what is their range and territory, what role they play in biodiversity. We do not know if any have of released pangolins have been re-poached.
Once in the centre and settled, how do you decide where to return the pangolins? Do you release them in surrounding areas as well as designated release sites? Do you ever get African pangolins that have been brought over?
We do not release locally as they are no longer any populations in Cuc Phuong Area. See above for how we determine release sites.
As for African pangolins; we have not seen any live African pangolins, however their scales and meat (frozen) are being imported into Vietnam and China.
Most releases occur in Central or Southern Vietnam and are very long trips. Cat Tien National Park in southern Vietnam is the furthest we have travelled to release pangolins (3 days on a bus)
Animals that have recovered in our centre are released if there is somewhere safe to do so. But it has not always been easy. One hand raised Masked palm civet, a common species, refused to go when released in Cuc Phuong National Park. He was provided with an open cage in the forest with regular food (a soft release) but kept sleeping in the cage and returning for food. He was eventually brought back to the centre where he continues to live happily. As he’s comfortable around people we plan for him to become part of an interactive education centre to educate the public.
I usually hear pangolin is the most trafficked animal in the world. Is it correct or just a sort of slogan? Is there data supporting this fact?
Pangolin is presumed to be the world’s most trafficked mammal, with an estimated 100,000 taken from the wild every year in Africa and Asia, that’s one pangolin captured every five minutes.
The figures and are best estimates derived from data gathered by CITES and is based on confiscation rates of live and dead animals (including scales). When scales are seized one can only estimate by weight of scales how many animals would have died to produce these scales. Moreover, due to corruption in many countries there is a tendency for under-reporting. Short answer, the figure is based on data but it is (like most data) incomplete.
I was surprised to see how easy it was for me to be offered pangolin in a restaurant in Saigon. Was there any improvement implementing the law in the last few years? Since when is trafficking with pangolin banned?
2002-2006: Pangolin is listed in group IB under Decree 48/2002/NĐ-CP
2006-Present: Pangolin is moved down to group IIB under Decree 32/2006/NĐ-CP which is the Decree replace Decree 48/2002/NĐ-CP)
At the end of 2013: law changes: the Decree 160/2013/NĐ-CP effect in 2014, pangolins move into the list of Endangered, Precious and Rare Species Prioritized for Protection.
Despite positive law changes and improvements enforcement remains a problem.
Endangered and priority conservation species have better protection from 1st July 2016 In November 2015, the Vietnamese government strengthened both the penal code and procedures relating to wildlife crime. The new code coming into effect from 1st July 2016 means that criminals caught with pangolins will receive heftier punishments. According to the penal code, people involved in hunting or trading of between one and six pangolins will be punished with a ﬁne between $US 25,000 – 100,000 and/or 1 – 5 years in prison. Similarly, those found with between seven and ten pangolins will receive 5-10 years in prison; those with more than 11 pangolins will receive 10-15 years in prison. The new criminal procedure laws also mean government authorities can allow conﬁscated wildlife to be released before the criminal trial.
SVW has worked with INGOs including GIG, WCS-Vietnam, WWF- Vietnam, FFI-Vietnam, TRAFFIC-Vietnam, PanNature, ENV and other organizations to lobby government ofﬁcials to make these changes. In an effort to place pressure on the National Assembly, we worked with the media to highlight the need for law reform, with our stories being covered nationally in TV and print and online channels.
Is Vietnam a particularly important country in which to work in pangolin conservation? (Why do you see Vietnam as an important location to work on pangolin conservation?)
Pangolins are both hunted and consumed in Vietnam, although due to a diminishing population and a slowly growing awareness of their imminent extinction, consumption is declining somewhat. Vietnam is also importantly a trade route to China, so many of pangolins that transit through Vietnam to China come from Laos and Cambodia.
This map which shows rates and locations of confiscation is also indicative of the trade route. As you can see It heads north to China.
Out of the eight species of pangolin that occur in the world, two (Sunda and Chinese) are found in Vietnam. Both species are commercially hunted in large quantities and comprise a large part of the illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam and throughout Asian countries. Both species are listed as endangered species in the IUCN red list since 2007 and then was listed to Critically Endangered in 2014. They are also classified in the Vietnamese red book 2007, and are cited in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Better enforcement is the main thing. And targeted change behavior campaigns that seek to understand the why of consumption so that we work to stop it. Changing the laws that criminalize poaching, trading and owning of wild animals are beginning to have some effect but we still need to work more on enforcement.
In a restaurant in Saigon they offered the pangolin for 6 million dong (the pangolin weighed 2 kilos). Is that the usual price?
In the black market of Vietnam, the traders will normally sell pangolins to consumers with a price from 180 to 200 USD/kg. In restaurant, they can be priced from 250 to 350 USD/kg. In restaurants the pangolin is sold whole and alive. Some restaurants will slit the animal’s throat in front of you, so the blood can be consumed. For pangolin scales, the prices often range from 600 to 1000 USD/kg