CHANGSHA, May 16 (Xinhua) -- As an environmental protection volunteer at the Changsha Wildlife Conservation Association (CSWCA), central China's Hunan Province, Zhou Canying has long been engaged in the protection of the Chinese pangolin.
"Finally! A surprise encounter with a Chinese pangolin!" Zhou recently shared with Chinese wildlife conservationists an exhilarating message on her social media account.
This is the first time that she and her team have captured footage of a Chinese pangolin in the wild, an unexpected breakthrough for the association since its launch of a program to search for the last pangolins five years ago.
Pangolins are illegally traded mammal in the world. According to data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group, more than 1 million pangolins were poached worldwide from 2004 to 2014 alone.
In 2016, the CSWCA launched the "Search for the Last Pangolins" program as a preparatory effort for the in situ conservation of the species. For conservationists, the first thing about pangolin protection is to determine their population, whereabouts, habitat requirements and what causes them to be endangered.
The program has been launched mainly in the vast hilly regions south of the Yangtze River, home to the Chinese pangolin, an ancient species which has lived for more than 80 million years.
Two years ago, Zhou noticed online reports of a baby Chinese pangolin found in a residential area in a county of east China's Jiangxi Province and later sent into the wild. The limited information was precious enough to send her and her team on an immediate research journey to the reported place.
Pangolins are nocturnal animals that only come out of their caves at night for food and are rarely spotted in the wild due to their scarce population. To judge whether pangolins exist locally and to observe their living conditions, it is advisable to film them with infrared camera traps.
Zhou cooperated with the wildlife conservationists there and designated a place in a local nature reserve to install cameras based on clues such as field studies, caves and traces.
"We have searched for pangolins in many southern provinces, but all in vain. This time, our efforts finally paid off," Zhou said.
Footage of a video released by the CSWCA on April 26 showed a pangolin, big-tailed and slightly stooped, trekking nimbly under the bushes. The video was shot in the city of Jiujiang, Jiangxi Province, where Zhou and her team often went to search for pangolins.
The animal captured in the footage was further identified and confirmed by Wu Shibao and several other experts as a Chinese pangolin.
This was in fact just one example of the recent discoveries across China of Chinese pangolins. It was reported that infrared cameras had also captured footage of wild Chinese pangolins in a nature reserve in the Xianju National Park in east China's Zhejiang Province, and that two teachers came across a walking Chinese pangolin in a school playground and sent it into the forest in east China's Fujian Province.
Wildlife conservationists believe that the frequent appearances of Chinese pangolins recently indicate that the species is not functionally extinct.
Wu said that in recent years, pangolins have been spotted in the wild in the provinces of Guangdong, Hainan, Anhui, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan, Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, including cubs weighing less than two kg and younger than one year old, indicating that Chinese pangolins can still reproduce naturally, and if earnestly protected, their population can gradually recover.
"The discovery of the Chinese pangolin is just the beginning toward a fundamental improvement of the species' habitats," Zhou said. Enditem