SINGAPORE - A stranded pangolin taken in by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) has been released back into the wild, almost two years after its rescue as a baby.
Named Sandshrew, it was taken on Tuesday (Sept 18) by WRS and the National Parks Board (NParks) to an undisclosed forest location, where it will remain for up to 10 days in an enclosure.
Observers have attached a radio tracking device to the Sunda pangolin to monitor its movements in the wild, where it will be watched 24 hours a day for up to one month to ensure that it is coping well in the rainforest.
"This is the very first documented case in the world where a hand-reared pangolin is being released back into the wild and tracked," said Dr Sonja Luz, WRS' director of conservation, research and veterinary services.
She said the enclosure location is kept secret to protect the pangolin from poachers, but added: "The thing I'm most worried about is him running onto a street or into the wrong habitat."
Sandshrew, named after a Pokemon character, is a Sunda pangolin, which is critically endangered and one of the world's most widely trafficked animals.
It was rescued in January 2017 when it was just 1½ months old, after it was found alone at a construction site in the Upper Thomson area.
When its rescue was reported in May 2017, WRS said Sandshrew would be released in a matter of months.
Dr Luz said the delay was because WRS had decided that it would track Sandshrew after its release, and that it needed the pangolin to grow large enough to fit the tracking device. The former 500g baby has since grown to a healthy 6kg.
"We also gave him more time for the re-wilding process to disconnect from humans. He's quite feisty now - he runs away from the keepers," she said with a smile.
Also launched on Tuesday was an action plan that laid out the conservation strategy for the Sunda pangolin in Singapore for the next 50 years.
The five goals in the plan include gathering information on the endangered creature, ensuring that it has breeding populations, and establishing wildlife-conscious urban planning policies.
In 2016, there were only an estimated 100 wild pangolins in Singapore, The Straits Times reported last year.
Mandai Park Holdings group chief executive Mike Barclay said: "In 2009, Night Safari Singapore became the first zoological institution to display the Sunda pangolin and later to breed the species under human care, but this alone is not enough."
He said: "We are thus optimistic that the National Conservation Strategy and Action Plan will allow pangolins to co-exist with us in our densely populated city."
Speaking at the launch of the plan, Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee talked about including young Singaporeans in conservation.
"I hope that we… use the Sunda pangolin and other native wildlife as icons in our school textbooks and materials to allow young children to get a better feel of what we have on this island," he said.