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Wildlife Trafficking & Pangolin Rescue Efforts in Southeast Asia

On November 5, 2015, over 65 students and professors at Santa Clara University attended a lecture on the topic "Wildlife Trafficking and Animal Conservation in Southeast Asia: The Situation in Indonesia, Vietnam, and China."  The presentation was given by Professor David Pinault and was co-sponsored by the Departments of Environmental Studies & Sciences and Religious Studies at Santa Clara University.

The illustrated slide-lecture provided students and other guests an introduction to the pangolin and its endangered status in both Asia and Africa.  Pinault explained that China has for generations been the primary market for pangolin meat and scales.  In recent years, China's newly emergent middle class has heightened demand for this protected species.  Now that Chinese dealers have largely depleted China's own population of pangolins, smugglers and traffickers have sought to satisfy the Chinese demand for pangolin flesh by illegally poaching these vulnerable creatures in countries ranging from Vietnam and Indonesia to various regions in southern Africa.

In his presentation, Pinault gave particular attention to the activities of Save Vietnam's Wildlife, a newly established organization that, under the leadership of a Vietnamese biologist named Thai Van Nguyen and his team, has taken a leadership role in providing a rehabilitation center for rescued pangolins.  Pinault described how SVW personnel frequently receive pangolins that have been confiscated from smugglers at the Vietnam-China border.  SVW then cares for these animals until they're ready to be released back into the forests of Vietnam.

Students were particularly interested to hear about life at SVW's rescue center in Cuc Phuong National Park, so Pinault drew on his own recent experience as a volunteer to describe the daily routine of work at the center, including feeding the pangolins, providing them water, cleaning their enclosures, washing food-bowls, and observing these animals to monitor their health.  He talked about the pleasure of working closely with the pangolins.  One of Pinault's favorites was Lucky, an "ambassador-pangolin" who especially enjoys interacting with his humans! 

In addition to SVW's efforts in rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing pangolins, Pinault noted that Thai and his staff have developed programs for educating Vietnam's youth concerning the need to develop love and respect for the nation's natural environment.

Here Pinault referred to his own previous work as a volunteer on the island of Java with the wildlife organization ProFauna Indonesia (where he gave presentations to Indonesian audiences) to talk about what he calls the "spiritual autonomy" of animals.  The various religious traditions of Southeast Asia---whether Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Confucian, Christian, or Animist---recognize that animals have a right to live their lives, just as humans do, and that animals have autonomous worth that isn't subject merely to whatever use humans try to make of them.  The resources of our planet---the forests, the rivers, the soil--- are limited, and humans must learn to discipline their own appetites and share these resources with the animals with whom we live on this earth.  From Pinault's perspective, doing volunteer work with pangolins is one way of putting such concepts into practice.

After the presentation, there was a lively half-hour of questions from the students, many of whom expressed interest in serving some day as volunteers with the pangolins at Save Vietnam's Wildlife.