Photo courtesy of Foxcroft School.
Before we began this project, I did not know what a pangolin was! It turns out that they are one of the most endangered species in the world. Poachers smuggle them for their scales. I was not surprised to hear that the scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute use technology to save species, but it was interesting to learn how tracking devices can help stop the illegal trade of pangolin scales. Dr. Stabach and our teacher, Dr. Maria Evans, tasked us with making a model pangolin scale that SCBI scientists could use as a device to follow pangolins’ movements and stop poachers.
We did a lot of research on pangolins; still, the scales were a lot smaller and thinner than we thought they would be. We created the form mold from plaster and used seashells as our test “scale” so that we would not damage the actual scale, lent to us by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It took a lot of trial and error to find the best materials for the model itself. We tried clear casting, but could not get the shell out of the mold.
Liquid plastic did not work, nor did hot glue or liquid latex. Natural clay was difficult to work with, and air-dried clay broke. In the end, we used WD-40 and fiberglass resin. We placed the scale in the mold to get the shape, and then we sanded the model and painted it brown on one side to get the color right.
It helped to collaborate and work as a team because my classmates brought different ideas and solutions to the table. Because the oryx team used many of the same materials we used, we were able to share ideas and help each other.
I hope that the ideas that went into creating our devices will bring SCBI scientists and others one step closer to saving the pangolin. It is exciting to think that scientists can use our work to make their own sophisticated devices, and that with this project, we are making a difference in the world.
Scimitar-Horned Oryx Team
Grace MacDonald, senior, Foxcroft School