I Am a Human Being, Capable of Doing Beautiful Things

For the past 24 hours, I’ve had this song on repeat. “I am a human being, capable of doing beautiful things.”, continues to pierce my ears while I write this. The follow up lyrics, “There’s lightning striking all over the world.”, is just a reminder of why I have to have those first lyrics repeated.

When you work in the field of conservation, self-doubt is frequent. Self-doubt appears when you’re attacked by competing interests, questioning your very purpose. Self-doubt about if you can be successful towards your goals when so much is stacked against you. Self-doubt when it feels that even when you are moving forward, you have brand new obstacles weighing you down. These things keep your eyes open at night, and even when closed, your mind endlessly active. You dream of solutions. You have nightmares about being at the edge of a cliff and seeing what you want on the other side of the valley. You know what it means if you fail. A species is lost forever. Instead of being the hero, you became a villain who didn’t work hard enough.

I'm happy to report that all of our previously discovered populations of the critically endangered Togo Slippery Frog (Conraua deoori) still exist. This is significant because this species was thought to be extinct just a few years ago! Luckily, the past few years we located a couple populations and they continue to show breeding activity. However, they're in danger of extinction within the next few years. Habitat along the montane streams is being modified to encourage tourist activities at the waterfalls (an important source of income for the villages nearby) and hand washing of cloths, which releases vast amount of phosphates and other pollutants into the streams. It has also been reported that this species is consumed by the local population. While Pangolin Conservation focuses on pangolins, this is an important project by our parent organization, Zoological Conservation. We're working on multiple responses to protect this species from extinction with our partners. We've already carried out and are stepping up an ex-situ program to secure this species zoological facilities across the USA, as a "backup" in case our other efforts fail. The Conraua genus has historically been difficult to transport and keep in captivity, but the use of novel techniques has resulted in successfully establishing this program.

The critically endangered Togo Slippery Frog (Conraua deoori). While Pangolin Conservation focuses on pangolins, it is an important project to save this species by our parent organization, Zoological Conservation.

Starting off this week we received great news. Our proposals to work with the zoology staff of the University of Lomé on two species, the White-bellied tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) and the Togo Slippery Frog (Conraua derooi) was widely embraced. We got to even meet one of our grad students that we’ll be funding in these projects.

Starting in 2017, we’re conducting an intensive pangolin habitat and population survey, that will be updated 3 times a year, for the next three years. In addition, we’re putting boots on the ground, MONTHLY, to survey the pangolin trade in villages throughout the region.

Some of the questions our research on pangolins:

  • How many pangolins are present in Western Togo?
  • What time of day and how many hours are pangolins active?
  • What is the range of male and female pangolins in the wild?
  • Specimens that are found in modified habitats, are they permanent residents or recent recruits from adjoining forest?
  • What is the approximate monthly trade in pangolins in the Plateaux region of Togo?
  • What are the seasonal changes in trade? Is trade increasing? Is it sustainable based on our biological knowledge of the species?
  • What is the best habitat to protect to secure pangolin populations?
  • What traits do villages have that trade in greater and lesser quantities of pangolins?
  • What other animals are present in pangolin habitats?

In addition, our research on the critically endangered Togo Slippery Frog (Conraua derooi) will be going forward. We’ll be using eDNA to find additional “hidden” populations of this species, and then an intensive ex-situ and in-situ conservation project will evolve around those results. This species was previously presumed to be considered extinct! We can’t let it fulfill that storied fate.

A mother nursing her two day old baby, discovered being transported in a plastic bag on the way to Chinese customers in the Togolese capital of Lomé.

A mother nursing her two day old baby, discovered being transported in a plastic bag on the way to Chinese customers in the Togolese capital of Lomé.

Now for the bad news. The things I’m having nightmares about.

A trade in the Togo Slippery Frog (Conraua derooi) has sprung up to supply foreign consumers as a dietary delicacy in Lomé, the capital city of Lomé. This is DEVASTATING! Organized collection of this species during only a few nights can wipe out entire populations to a point they will not be able to recover! I’m crushed, simply beat-down with this knowledge. That feeling when you let it sink in, I’m experiencing it. This is feeling helpless.

Pangolins…..yes, pangolins. It seems I never get to hear good news. Just yesterday, I was told by one of my “ears on the ground” that Chinese national has been visiting villages throughout Togo and asking for pangolins. He has been establishing a new network on contacts to supply him. For years, the large scale trade in pangolins has stayed dormant after the last individual who acquired them in mass got caught. Let that set in. The only hope is to mitigate this trade and shut it down, before pangolin in Togo become as scarce as they are in Asia. Now, many people say INCREASE REGULATIONS! Well, people are not following them now. That’s only a very small part of the soultion. To stop this trade we must reach out to local communities that are providing them. Stop it at the source. 

The author got stuck in a storm in the market. A family was nice enough to let me take shelter under their fruit stand. Then commenced 3 hours of playing games with the kids on my phone while they asked me about my life. Lots of laughter commenced, as the people here are joyous.

Why should we remain hopeful? Simple, because we are all human. We all make mistakes, but, “I am a human being, capable of doing beautiful things.”

Please, consider donating to help us do those beautiful things. The two programs above will cost us close to $60,000 USD a year, and even a dollar donated helps us reach our goals. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

Even if you can not donate at this time, please sign up for our newsletter or even send some friendly words of encouragement via our “Contact Us” form. A few kind words can lift a heavy soul up in these troubling times.

ALL donations directly support our work, including our programs in West Africa to study and mitigate the trade. West Africa is currently becoming ground zero, and we’re here to keep these animals from going extinct! We’re a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charitable organization located in the USA. Our tax EIN is 47-4093670 and our tax-exempt status can be verified with the IRS by searching for our parent organization (Zoological Conservation) using our EIN number. We operate under the dba Pangolin Conservation. Our staff is unpaid and every donation goes to fully fund our conservation, research, and educational activities.