Goldman Prize winner Thai Van Nguyen is saving pangolins

Published 3:29 AM ET, Tue June 15, 2021
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The pangolin is the only scaled mammal in the world, and the world's most trafficked mammal. Thai Van Nguyen, a Vietnamese conservationist, has been awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for his contributions to pangolin conversation in Southeast Asia. Nguyen examines a rescued three-month-old Sunda pangolin at a rescue center he established in Vietnam. Suzi Eszterhas
Pangolins are poached for meat and for use in traditional medicine. Their scales can sell for hundreds of dollars per kilogram on the black market. Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images
Nguyen founded NGO Save Vietnam's Wildlife in 2014. His team rescue, rehabilitate, study and release trafficked pangolins at centers in Vietnam's North Central Coast region. A key part of his conservation strategy is education. In 2017 he opened Vietnam's first pangolin education center; the mission is to help people understand pangolins' value other than as a commodity. Linh Pham/Getty Images
Pangolins are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity. Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images
To better understand how to care for these elusive animals, the team at Save Vietnam's Wildlife carefully monitor the pangolins in their care, analyzing their behaviors to improve their husbandry. Linh Pham/Getty Images
Save Vietnam's Wildlife rehabilitates the pangolins it rescues. The keepers monitor the animals through the night, preparing a specialized diet of frozen ant eggs and live ants and termites. Linh Pham/Getty Images
Save Vietnam's Wildlife has close links with Vietnamese law enforcement, from police and forest rangers to customs officials. Many pangolins are rescued through these channels. Nguyen's team also provides intelligence and on-the-ground support for government raids. Save Vietnam's Wildlife
Most rescued pangolins arrive with serious health problems, including broken limbs and lesions caused by traps and inhumane transportation. Other serious issues arise from force feeding, as poachers often feed pangolins a mixture of water and corn flour to increase their weight and therefore their value. Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images
Once the rescued pangolins are healthy, they are released back into the wild. Save Vietnam's Wildlife
Save Vietnam's Wildlife continues to monitor the animals once they are released. Their activity is observed using radio tagging and drone tracking. Linh Pham/Getty Images
Nguyen also established an anti-poaching team. According to Nguyen there has been an 80% reduction in poaching activity in Pu Mat National Park since the establishment of the anti-poaching unit. Save Vietnam's Wildlife estimates that the team has destroyed around 10,000 traps. Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images
"One person or one organization cannot change everything, cannot save the pangolin," says Nguyen. "But if everyone takes action together, we can save the species from extinction." Linh Pham/Getty Images