The unfamiliar pangolin is the biggest mammal victim of the wildlife trade

March 29th, 2013

The unique and unknown Chinese pangolin is the most common mammal in international trade, and is being taken from all throughout Asia to meet the demand for use in traditional medicines and meat in China.

The Cape pangolin, pictured here, could become increasingly imperiled if trade moves from Asia to Africa. Photo by: Maria Diekmann/Rare and Endangered Species Trust.

  • Pangolins are hunted for their scales – which are believed to have medicinal properties – and for their meat which is known as a delicacy in Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants.
  • Since 2000, a minimum of tens of thousands of animals have been traded in each year internationally, and in 2011 it was estimated that 40,000-60,000 pangolins were stolen from the wild in Vietnam alone.
  • Pangolins are small, docile mammals that look like small anteaters with scaly skin like a dragon.
  • They are excellent tree climbers and swimmers and like to feed on termites and ants.
  • Pangolins are very well known for their signature defense trait – rolling up into a scaly ball – and they are the only mammal in the world with proper scales.
  • Even though pangolins look like anteaters, they are actually related to carnivores but do not have teeth and do not eat meat.
  • Conservation efforts in the region are mainly focused on large mammals such as elephants, tigers, lions, etc. and are ignoring the pressing issues of small mammals and low profile species like the pangolin.
  • Because of this, there are no adequate plans for their conservation and little is known about their role in the ecosystem.
  • Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) is kickstarting the first automated camera project hoping to catch pangolins on film to learn about their dens and nocturnal lifestyle.
  • They are hoping this research will be helpful in constructing a conservation plan for the pangolin in Nepal.

So what can we do to help?

  • Call on your local government to take pangolin poaching and trade issues seriously.
  • Refuse to spend money at restaurant or traditional medicine outlets that sell pangolin parts and derivatives.
  • Support pangolin conservation initiatives.
  • Establish safe pangolin habitats through community participation and enforced legal initiatives.

The Chinese pangolin is listed as Endangered due to a massively unsustainable, and illegal, trade in their meat and scales. This pangolin is a resident of the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. Photo courtesy of EDGE ZSL.

And finally, celebrate World Pangolin Day each year on February 16th!

Want to learn more? Read the full story here: Pity the pangolin: little-known mammal most common victim of the wildlife trade

Lions in Africa may need fences to survive

March 19th, 2013

Lion population numbers in Africa have fallen dramatically in the past 50 years and researchers want to build large-scale protective fences to help them survive in the wild.

Lion in Tanzania. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

  • Lion population numbers have dwindled from 100,000 in 1960 to 15,000 – 30,000 in present day.
  • Habitat loss and little food are some of the reasons why population numbers are low, but another influential impact is humans.
  • Farmers kill lions due the harm they pose to livestock.
  • This problem with livestock and lions occur because of human’s close proximity to the lion’s habitat.
  • According to scientists, lions in South Africa are considered so dangerous that when they are re-introduced in the wild, lion-proof fencing has to be installed in their protected areas to prevent human conflict.
  • If any lions escape from this fenced protected area, management authorities have to either recapture or kill them.
  • Researchers suggest that if all lions in protected areas and parks are not fenced in, then half of the current population could vanish within 20-40 years.
  • Problems with protected area fencing are high initial costs and the inability for animals to migrate.
  • Benefits of large-scale fencing are larger population numbers, reduced poaching, less habitat loss, and less direct human contact.

Lion and cub in Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa. Photo by: Luke Hunter.

Want to learn more? Read the full story here: The end of wild Africa?: lions may need fences to survive

Crocodile species brawl for food and shelter and threaten conservation efforts

March 19th, 2013

The spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) and the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) occupy the same space and eat the same food, which could generate competition between the two species and perhaps delay the recovery of the conservation-dependent black caiman crocodile.

Black caiman. Photo by: Eric Maxwell.

  • The black caiman is the largest predator in the Amazon and is considered dependent on conservation efforts to survive.
  • They are suffering low population numbers from being nearly hunted to extinction in the mid-1900s.
  • There are strict anti-hunting laws and protected areas to help their population numbers increase, but they are still targets for poachers.
  • In addition, the spectacled caiman threatens the black caiman’s recovery because they eat the same food and live in the same areas causing competition amongst the two animals.
  • This smaller spectacled caiman’s population growth is four times that of the black caiman because they reach their full size faster and have the ability to reproduce sooner.
  • Studies have shown that they have similar diets, but there is no evidence that concludes that food competition is affecting the black caiman’s population numbers.
  • It is possible for both crocodiles can live together without affecting the black caiman’s population numbers since the spectacled caiman can be an additional food source for them.

Spectacled caiman in Colombia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Want to learn more? Read the full story here: Crocodilian competition may hinder conservation efforts in Amazon