Scientists step up hunt for ‘Asian unicorn’, one of world’s rarest animals

The saola is so elusive that no biologist has seen one in the wild. Now they are racing to find it, so they can save it

This image of a captive saola was taken in Vietnam in 1993
The saola has only been captured on camera a handful of times. Photograph: WWF/AP

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About this contentVeronika PerkováFri 7 Jan 2022 02.30 EST

Weighing 80-100kg and sporting long straight horns, white spots on its face and large facial scent glands, the saola does not sound like an animal that would be hard to spot. But it was not until 1992 that this elusive creature was discovered, becoming the first large mammal new to science in more than 50 years.

Nicknamed the “Asian unicorn”, the saola continues to be elusive. They have never been seen by a biologist in the wild and have been camera-trapped only a handful of times. There are reports of villagers trying to keep them in captivity but they have died after a few weeks, probably due to the wrong diet.

It was during a survey of wildlife in the remote Vũ Quang nature reserve, a 212 square mile forested area of north central Vietnam, in 1992, that biologist Do Tuoc came across two skulls and a pair of trophy horns belonging to an unknown animal.

Twenty more specimens, including a complete skin, were subsequently collected and, in 1993, laboratory tests revealed the animal to be not only a new species, but an entirely new genus in the bovid family, which includes cattle, sheep, goats and antelopes.

Initially named Vu Quang Ox, the animal was later called saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) – meaning “spindle horns”, the arms or posts (sao) of a spinning wheel (la) according to Lao-speaking ethnic groups in Laos and neighbouring Vietnam.

A wild saola photographed by camera trap in Laos in 1999.
A saola photographed by a camera trap in Laos in 1999. Photograph: William Robichaud


The discovery was hailed as one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century but less than 30 years later the saola population is believed to have declined massively due to commercial wildlife poaching, which has exploded in Vietnam since 1994. Even though the saola is not directly targeted by poachers, intensive commercial snaring that supplies animals for use in traditional Asian medicine or as bushmeat serves as the primary threat.

A giant stingray fish in the Mekong River near the Cambodian and Vietnam border.

Despite efforts to improve patrolling of nature reserves in the Annamite mountains, a major mountain range extending about 680 miles through Laos, Vietnam and into north-east Cambodia, poaching has been intensifying. “Thousands of people use snares, so there are millions of them in the forest, which means populations of large mammals and some birds have no way to escape and are collapsing throughout the Annamites,” says Minh Nguyen, a PhD student at Colorado State University, who studies the impact of snares on critically endangered large-antlered muntjac.

In 2001, the saola population was estimated to number 70 to 700 in Laos and several hundred in Vietnam. More recently, experts have put the number at fewer than 100 – a decline that led to the species being listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list in 2006, the highest risk category that a species can have before extinction in the wild. The animal was last camera-trapped in 2013 in the Saola Nature Reserve in central Vietnam. Since then, villagers continue to report its presence in areas in and around Pu Mat national park in Vietnam and in Bolikhamxay province in Laos.

We stand at a moment of conservation history. We know how to find and save this magnificent animal. We just need the world to come together

William Robichaud, Saola Foundation

In 2006, William Robichaud and Simon Hedges, a biologist and specialist on wildlife conservation and countering the illegal wildlife trade in Asia and Africa, co-founded the Saola Working Group (SWG) with the aim of finding the last saolas in the wild for a captive breeding programme, in order to reintroduce the species back into the wild in future, in a natural habitat that is free from threats.

The SWG connects conservation organisations in Laos and Vietnam to raise awareness, collect information from local people, and search for saola. But the animals continue to elude the team. Between 2017 and 2019, the SWG carried out an intensive search using 300 camera traps in an 11 square mile area of the Khoun Xe Nongma national protected area in Laos. Not one of the million photographs captured saola.Advertisement

According to the IUCN, only about 30% of potential Saola habitat has had any form of wildlife survey and potentially as little as 2% has been searched intensively for the species. Technologies limit the capabilities – camera traps are not good at detecting individual animals that are spread across a large area, especially in the damp, dense forest of the saola range. In August this year, the IUCN Species Survival Commission called for more investment in the search for the saola. “It is clear that search efforts must be significantly ramped up in scale and intensity if we are to save this species from extinction,” said Nerissa Chao, Director of the IUCN SSC Asian Species Action Partnership

Saola eating leaves by the author Veronika Perková for her podcast How to save saola
A drawing of a saola eating leaves. Photograph: Veronika Perková

One organisation, the Saola Foundation, is raising money for a new initiative that would train dogs to detect saola signs such as dung. Any samples would then be studied onsite using rapid saola-specific DNA field test kits being developed in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Molecular Laboratory in New York. Should the kits return a positive result within an hour, expert wildlife trackers will start searching for saola in the forest.

If successful, captured saolas will be taken to a captive breeding centre being developed by the SWG and the Vietnamese government at Bạch Mã national park in central Vietnam.

“We stand at a moment of conservation history,” says Robichaud, who is president of the Saola Foundation. “We know how to find and save this magnificent animal, which has been on planet Earth for perhaps 8m years. We just need the world to come together and support the effort. It won’t cost much, and the reward, for saola, for the Annamite mountains, and for ourselves, will be huge.”

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

The young Vietnamese helping tackle the illegal wildlife trade

Trang Nguyen is a rarity in Vietnam where civil society is viewed with scepticism and most young people want more lucrative careers.

Trang has won international recognition for her work including the Future for Nature Award [Theo Krus/Courtesy of Trang Nguyen]
Trang has won international recognition for her work including the Future for Nature Award [Theo Krus/Courtesy of Trang Nguyen]

By Sen Nguyen10 Sep 2021

Standing on top of a four-wheel drive looking out at a central Kenyan wildlife reserve wearing a bucket hat and walking boots, Trang Nguyen stands apart from most Vietnamese who prefer European charm and East Asian wonders for their holidays and photographic memories.

But Trang is no ordinary traveller.KEEP READINGIUCN Red List: Bad news for sharks, Komodo dragon; tuna improvingEndangered Sumatran tigers recovering from COVID in Jakarta zooWhat’s behind the US trade in exotic animals?The Poachers Pipeline: Exposing wildlife trafficking

The 31-year-old founder and executive director of WildAct, a Vietnamese conservation NGO, travels the world as a wildlife conservation scientist.

In a fast-growing economy where most people eye lucrative jobs in business and finance and the government regards civil society with scepticism, if not hostility, she stands out.

‘’My parents weren’t too supportive when I told them what I wanted to do,’’ Trang told Al Jazeera, acknowledging that few Vietnamese would see what she does as a dream job.

But there is little else she can imagine herself doing.

‘’I enjoy doing research and so I [have] spent much of my time in the field, in remote areas and sometimes also putting myself in dangerous situations. No parents would want their child to go through that,’’ she said.

Vietnam, which has emerged as a hotspot in the multibillion-dollar global trade in illegal wildlife, serves as both a transit route and a major consumer market. Vietnamese crime syndicates have been documented operating as poachers and smugglers in a host of source countries throughout Africa and Asia, from Malaysia to Mozambique, according to the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

The EIA says that in the 17 years until 2019, Vietnam was involved in more than 600 seizures linked to illegal trade, involving the deaths of at least 228 tigers, 610 rhinoceroses, 15,779 elephants, and 65,510 pangolins – all species that are in critical danger. The group based its figures on publicly available data on seizures.

In terms of the consumption of tiger parts and products, Vietnamese are second only to the Chinese.

Many people believe that what they call “bone glue”, or cao in Vietnamese, which comes from animals like tigers and monkeys, can help treat joint-related ailments. Rhino horns, meanwhile, are a symbol of affluence, with some believing the horn can cure cancer.

Trang herself is a colon cancer survivor and was struck by a comment from her doctor that such beliefs were dangerous given the need for early treatment with many cancers.

It was a “powerful message”, she told the World Wildlife Fund in an interview this year, and an effective way for her to tackle the continuing demand for rhino horn.

Don’t look away now: are viewers finally ready for the truth about nature?

For decades David Attenborough delighted millions with tales of life on Earth. But now the broadcaster wants us to face up to the state of the planet

Sir David Attenborough pictured in the Maasai Mara, Kenya while filming A Life on Our Planet.
 Sir David Attenborough pictured in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, while filming A Life on Our Planet for Netflix. Photograph: Conor McDonnell/WWF-UK

Sir David Attenborough’s soothing, matter-of-fact narrations have brought the natural world to our living rooms for nearly seven decades and counting. From Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the jungles of central Africa, the 94-year-old broadcaster has dazzled and delighted millions with tales of life on Earth – mostly pristine and untouched, according to the images on our screens. But this autumn Attenborough has returned with a different message: nature is collapsing around us.

“We are facing a crisis. One that has consequences for us all. It threatens our ability to feed ourselves, to control our climate. It even puts us at greater risk of pandemic diseases such as Covid-19,” he warned in Extinction: The Facts on BBC One primetime, receiving five-star reviews.

Clips and graphs showing the spiralling extinction rate were shared widely on social media. Some even pledged to change their diets and live their lives in a different way. “We have to listen to him. And act,” said broadcaster Matthew Stadlen.

Wildlife storytellers have long wrestled with how to tell this uncomfortable tale while keeping audiences engaged. Less than two years ago, Attenborough himself said that repeated warnings on the subject could be a “turn-off” for viewers. The thought of a million species at risk of extinction due to human activity was deemed too much for many to bear. But last Sunday night, viewers did not reach for the off button.

“I thought the figures would just go off a cliff if I am totally frank,” Jack Bootle, the BBC’s head of science and natural history commissioning, told the Guardian.

“What actually happened, to my delight, was the opposite. Viewers rose really dramatically over the course of the hour. So by the end of the hour, it picked up an additional 0.6 million viewers, which is a lot in our book. I think that people couldn’t quite tear themselves away.”

One of the two northern white rhinos that will be the last of their species, featured in Extinction: The Facts.
 One of the two northern white rhinos that will be the last of their species, featured in Extinction: The Facts. Photograph: Charlotte Lathane/BBC

Attenborough and leading scientists told a peak audience of 4.5 million about two northern white rhinos that will be the last of their species, a disappearing orca pod off the Hebrides and pangolin trafficking. The heartbreak and the horror were a jolting departure from the mega series that celebrate the beauty of the natural world with a limited mention of environmental damage.

Later this autumn, after a short cinematic release, it will be Netflix’s turn to air a stark warning about biodiversity loss, with Attenborough presenting A Life On Our Planet. The film retraces his career, each life stage and natural history film accompanied by the drum beat of human population growth and the loss of wilderness areas. The film begins in Chernobyl – an obvious metaphor for what is to come if humanity does not act – before explaining the importance of a plant-based diet and urging viewers to rewild the planet.

So why the sudden switch to a no-holds barred approach?.

“The responsibility of being a balanced public service has now been reduced to a considerable degree,” he told the Guardian in March, as the pandemic was starting to build. “But it’s also that the problem itself has suddenly become overwhelming and worldwide.”

This week has seen a slew of reports warning that “humanity is at a crossroads” in its relationship with nature, culminating in a UN report that the world has failed to meet a single target to stop the destruction of nature in the last decade.

Intensive agriculture, such as this palm oil plantation in Borneo, has lead to a loss of biodiversity.
 Intensive agriculture, such as this palm oil plantation in Borneo, has lead to a loss of biodiversity. Photograph: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet/Netflix

But explaining the subject matter of films about the destruction of nature and how it relates to human wellbeing is a challenge. “I don’t think that the theoretical basis for the reason why biodiversity is important is a widely understood one,” Attenborough said.


What is biodiversity and why does it matter?

“But I think there’s a profound understanding beneath, as it were, logic that the natural world is of great importance. The biological argument about why, in fact, a complex ecosystem is more likely to survive and change and be productive than a simplified one in which the number of species has been grossly reduced.”

Julia Patricia Gordon Jones, a conservation professor at Bangor University, appeared in Extinction: The Facts and has been tracking the change in language and image use in nature films. The Madagascar expert had grown increasingly frustrated with the portrayals of an apparently untouched natural world in Attenborough documentaries over the years.

Jones spent three weeks with the Our Planet team in 2015 while they were making the Netflix hit series on the western edge of the African island, filming fossas – lemur-hunting carnivores. The team’s camp was threatened by fire – a huge problem in Madagascar’s dry forests – and the habitat where they shot the footage of fossas had disappeared by the time the show appeared on Netflix.

“The footage from the Madagascar sequences was brilliant but they ended them with, ‘since we filmed this, these forests have gone up in flames’. I was, like, you spent nights getting drone footage of fires, going out early in the morning watching the fires,” she said. “The fires were burning right up to the camp there and then but none of that made the cut because they still wanted to perpetuate that people are going to switch off if they see anything sad.”

The new Attenborough documentaries emphasise the disastrous consequences of species extinction.
 The new Attenborough documentaries emphasise the disastrous consequences of species extinction. Photograph: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet/Netflix

Extinction: The Facts was different, Jones wrote in a blogpost for the Conversation, a “surprisingly radical” departure from the past. She expects the Netflix film A Life On Our Planet to be the same.

“I think it’s the film that’s desperately needed,” Jones said. “We’ve all had this guy telling us about the wonders of the natural world for almost three generations, and to have the personal story of his own reflection of what he’s seen, the loss, I think that’s going to be massive.”

 David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet will premiere in cinemas on 28 September

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

HSUS, HSI lawsuit forces U.S. to act to protect pangolins, world’s most trafficked mammals

 August 18, 2020

Pangolins—the most trafficked mammals in the world—are one step closer to getting legal protections in the United States that could help reverse their slide toward extinction.

In a settlement approved by a federal court today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to consider listing pangolins as “endangered” under U.S. federal law, in response to a petition filed by the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, and other animal and environmental protection groups. At present, only one of the world’s eight pangolin species receive such protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act; the settlement reached today will pave the way for all eight species being listed under the ESA.

The agency has until June 1 next year to act on our petition.

This is an exciting outcome, and it follows year of legal efforts by our teams here at the HSUS and HSI, and our partner organizations, to save pangolins. In 2015, our coalition filed a petition urging the USFWS to list all eight pangolin species as endangered, because threats against these animals have escalated to even more dangerous levels in recent years due to a growing demand for their meat and scales in East Asian medicine, as well as deforestation and habitat loss. These threats led the International Union for Conservation of Nature to uplist several pangolin species from “endangered” to “critically endangered” last year. Unfortunately, the USFWS failed to act on our petition for four years, so earlier this year we filed a lawsuit along with our coalition partners to force it to do so.

We are happy that our lawsuit pushed the agency to finally commit to taking prompt action on our petition.

It is critical that the United States moves to protect pangolins because there’s a thriving market for pangolin parts and products on our soil. A 2015 HSI investigation uncovered U.S.-based companies selling “medicinal” pangolin parts and products online to American customers, and HSUS and HSI have also documented pangolin scales for sale in shops in Portland, Oregon and New York City. Between 2004 and 2013, U.S. authorities seized at least 29,000 pangolin products, almost all “medicinal” products.

It is estimated that more than one million pangolins were poached between 2000 and 2013.

The case for protecting pangolins is a strong one, and HSI has worked relentlessly toward this goal for years now. In 2016, our delegation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) worked to secure the support of 183 member nations to give the highest level of protection to all eight pangolin species, banning the international commercial trade in pangolin parts. HSI organized public awareness campaigns to reduce demand for pangolin parts in China and Vietnam and has supported the rescue and rehabilitation of pangolins in South Africa.

Today’s court settlement puts the ball in the U.S. government’s court. Delay is no longer an option, and by giving pangolins the strongest protections under our federal law, our nation will establish itself as a leader in the fight against an illegal trade that is driving these shy but charismatic mammals to extinction. We urge the USFWS to heed the overwhelming evidence showing that all pangolins must be protected under the ESA.

The post HSUS, HSI lawsuit forces U.S. to act to protect pangolins, world’s most trafficked mammals appeared first on A Humane World.

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China strengthens protection, management, of Pangolins

: Aug 06 09:05AM -0400

1 July 2020


The NFGA has issued a new notice on “strengthening the protection and
management of pangolins” following the species is uplisted to first-class
state protection. However, it is worth noting that the legal trade of
pangolin is still maintained under the strengthened measures, therefore the
demand on medicinal use, which has driven the trafficking of pangolins,
persists. The notice includes:

1. Increase the sense of urgency for pangolin protection.
2. Implement habitat protection based on the findings of an ongoing
population survey regarding the wild population of pangolins in China.
Patrolling will be increased to ensure poachers or habitat destructors will
be severely punished. Any special request on collecting pangolins for
scientific research requires approvals from the provincial forestry
3. Strengthen enforcement. There will be stronger coordination between
departments, such as police, market regulators, internet regulators,
transportation surveillance and customs, to combat wildlife crime against
pangolins. They will thoroughly inspect the breeding facilities,
restaurants, agricultural markets, TCM markets, electronic platform, social
platforms and logistics sectors. Captive breeding facilities will be
required to improve within a time period if they are not up to standard.
There will be punishment for breeding facilitates that operate without a
license or using illegal stock as origin.
Also, there will be stronger inspection of the pangolin raw materials and
products, any illegal use will be severely punished. All commercial export
is banned.
4. Rewilding pangolins with scientific research. The NFGA supports all
conservation work regarding rescue, disease control, breeding and
re-introduction to the wild of pangolins.
5. Strengthen the public education and awareness on pangolin

Here is the full notice:


Traffickers Shipping Thousands of Florida Turtles to Asia

Traffickers in Florida are transport hundreds of land and freshwater turtles from Florida to Asia.

In China, land turtles have proved standard as pets whereas some are being bought for human consumption in meals markets. The pets can fetch up to $300 every.

But some turtles can promote for $10,000 at auctions held close to Shanghai, in accordance to a report from Kimberly Miller revealed in Florida by the Palm Beach Post.

Curtis Brown, the director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the principle supply for Miller’s report, stated that Florida has “one of the most densely populated areas in the world for turtle biodiversity, which makes us a target for illegal trafficking.”

Turtles for export from the U.S. are obtained each from the wild and from business turtle breeding farms.

Nearly all species of sea turtles are actually categorized as endangered. They’re killed not just for their meat but additionally for his or her eggs, pores and skin, and shells.

Turtles are honored by some Chinese as symbols of longevity, tenacity, and success.

Many of the turtles are being shipped to China on business air flights. But China isn’t the one vacation spot for trafficked turtles.

Southeast Asia a vacation spot for marine turtles

According to a research launched in late November of 2019 by Traffic, a wildlife monitoring group based mostly in Cambridge within the UK, native authorities have seized hundreds of marine turtles and their elements in markets positioned in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

The research of these sea turtles was commissioned by the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which has been agreed to by 182 nations.

Chinese medical doctors had spoken out a number of years in the past towards the follow of consuming turtle meat. But it seems that regardless of a scarcity of scientific proof, many Chinese nonetheless imagine that turtle meat offers medicinal advantages.

According to one skilled, turtles are typically consumed at non-public Chinese banquets.

Turtle eggs are thought of to be an aphrodisiac in some Asian nations. And in China, the idea apparently persists that turtle meat maintains youthful magnificence in ladies.

So it’s maybe not shocking that almost all species of sea turtles are actually thought of endangered.

And in accordance to the Swiss-based World Wildlife Fund (WWF), as of 2018, six out of the world’s seven endangered or critically endangered marine turtle species may very well be discovered within the Asia-Pacific area.

International trafficking rings based mostly in South and Southeast Asia are concerned within the commerce as a result of they’ll achieve large income from it.

Fishermen have profited by catching turtles of their nets as far-off because the Indian Ocean off Kenya’s coast.

Hawksbill turtles a lot in demand

The hawksbill commerce started a few years in the past and has prompted the deaths of hundreds of thousands of the turtles. They’ve been killed to make combs, frames for eyeglasses, and guitar picks, in addition to ornaments and low cost jewellery.

The hawksbill turtle’s tapered head ends in a pointy level resembling a hen’s beak, therefore its identify.

According to the National Geographic, hawksbill turtles develop to about 45 inches in shell size and weigh roughly 150 kilos. They can dwell for 30 to 50 years.

Jason Daley, a Madison, Wisconsin-based author specializing in pure historical past, science, and the surroundings, wrote in April of final 12 months that the hawksbill sea turtle “just might be the most beautiful reptile in the ocean.”

“It’s known for the striking patterns that appear on its head and flippers, but is most prized for its multi-hued shell,” stated Daley in an article revealed by the Smithsonian Magazine.

That was one purpose why the species was listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), he stated.

The IUCN, based mostly in Switzerland, has observer and consultative standing on the United Nations and helps to implement a number of worldwide agreements on nature conservation.

Daley cites a research carried out by researchers on the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, who’ve been trying to perceive the affect of historic exploitation on as we speak’s hawksbill turtles.

Prior to the aquarium’s analysis, which has been revealed within the journal Science Advances, information in regards to the hawksbill commerce went again solely to 1950.

But researchers traced commerce data from 1844 to 1992, together with paperwork from Japan’s customs archives.

Turtles have existed for hundreds of thousands of years and someway survived the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs.

Now they’re threatened not solely by wildlife traffickers but additionally by plastic floating within the oceans that’s mistakenly taken by some of them to be meals. Ingesting the plastic can show deadly for them.

Wildlife police battle towards traffickers

In mid-February of this 12 months, the creator Joshua Hammer reported in The Wall Street Journal that police within the United Kingdom who concentrate on uncovering “wildlife crimes” have been seizing uncommon eels that have been destined to be shipped by air to Hong Kong.

Some turtles may have been blended in with the shipments, given the delicate approach through which the eels have been packaged .

In an article titled “Meet the Wildlife Police,” Hammer describes the scene at London’s Heathrow Airport and the sophistication of the packaging used to ship wildlife species now on the sting of extinction to Asia.

The border drive officers at Heathrow have been suspicious of a stack of polystyrene foam trays marked “frozen fish” that had handed by way of customs in London on their approach to a flight certain for Hong Kong.

The officers eliminated the highest tray and recovered cartons of dwell child glass eels, which belong to one of the world’s most critically endangered species.`

Possible options

In late August of 2019, Christine Madden Hof, marine species challenge supervisor for the Swiss-based World Wildlife Fund (WWF}, known as on all nations involved to work collectively to enhance monitoring, detection, and legislation enforcement actions geared toward halting the unlawful commerce in sea turtles.

One downside with that is doubtless to be corruption amongst customs officers, who in some Southeast Asian nations will be bribed to look the opposite approach as turtle shipments cross by way of.

In the United States, the Missouri Department of Conservation has been contemplating the imposition of restrictions on the “harvesting” of wild turtles species within the state.

Some of the turtles there have been reported to be heading for consumption in China or use in Chinese conventional drugs.

It’s already unlawful in Missouri to seize, promote, or commerce turtles within the pet commerce. Snapping turtle and softshell turtle species are allowed as recreation for hunters however provided that captured by accredited strategies. But it has apparently now reached the stage the place the turtle inhabitants in Missouri will grow to be so small that it may well’t be sustained.

To finish on a constructive be aware, a quantity of turtle lovers around the globe have labored as volunteers to shield susceptible turtles.

In late 2018, The New York Times reported on a nonprofit group in coastal Kenya that paid fishermen to halt the unlawful seize of turtles. The group additionally managed to maintain alive for a number of months a hawksbill turtle whose intestinal tract was clogged with plastic.

The turtle, whom they named Hogaar, had eaten small items of plastic that it had apparently mistaken for meals equivalent to jellyfish.

Traffickers Shipping Thousands of Florida Turtles to Asia

Chinese man sentenced to 8-year jail for illegal wildlife trade

Source:Xinhua Published: 2020/3/6 15:29:30

A court in Hangzhou, capital of east China’s Zhejiang Province, on Thursday sentenced a man to eight years in prison for illegally trading wild owls and skylarks, with a fine of 55,000 yuan (around 7,929 US dollars).

The Xiaoshan District People’s Court in Hangzhou heard that from November 2017 to January 2018, the man surnamed Zhao successively purchased seven live owls, a Class B protected animal in China, from others at the price of 200 yuan each and resold them at more than twice the price in the local market. During that time, he also sold other wild birds, including hawks and skylarks on China’s social media platform WeChat.

Police arrested Zhao on the spot when he sold an owl for 400 yuan and then seized two live owls and a bag of frozen dead wild birds, including skylarks and little buntings.

Both Zhao and other suspects involved in the case paid a total of 75,000 yuan in compensation for ecological and environmental damage.

After the sudden attack of the novel coronavirus, China has stepped up efforts in cracking down on illegal activities related to wildlife as researchers believe the virus highly likely came from wild animals.

China’s top legislature had adopted a decision on thoroughly banning the illegal trading of wildlife and eliminating the consumption of wild animals.

I.Coast burns 3 tonnes of pangolin scales

The scaly mammal—listed as threatened with extinction—is a traditional delicacy across China and much of southeast Asia
The scaly mammal—listed as threatened with extinction—is a traditional delicacy across China and much of southeast Asia

Ivory Coast officials on Tuesday burnt three tonnes of scales of the pangolin, the most trafficked mammal on Earth.

Beijing announced a total ban on the sale and consumption of the  after the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The scaly mammal—listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) as threatened with extinction—is a traditional delicacy across China and much of southeast Asia.

“It was an international trafficking network that was dismantled and 3.6 tonnes of scales were burnt,” Minister of Forests Alain Richard Donwahi said after setting three lots on fire in the economic capital Abidjan.

He said the scales were worth “millions”, adding: “We are fighting poaching and also trafficking in protected species.”

“Pangolin scales are highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine … and in Vietnam.

“In Asia, the price can go up to $ 1,000 per kg,” he said.

The international sale of pangolins was outlawed in 2016 under the CITES convention against species exploitation.

The illegal trafficking of wild species is estimated by the WWF to be worth around $15 billion annually, particularly among booming Asian markets.

  • Beijing announced a total ban on the sale and consumption of the pangolin after the novel coronavirus outbreak
    Beijing announced a total ban on the sale and consumption of the pangolin after the novel coronavirus outbreak
  • Endangered pangolins
    Graphic on pangolins, the world’s most heavily trafficked mammals.
  • Beijing announced a total ban on the sale and consumption of the pangolin after the novel coronavirus outbreak
    Beijing announced a total ban on the sale and consumption of the pangolin after the novel coronavirus outbreak
  • Endangered pangolins
    Graphic on pangolins, the world’s most heavily trafficked mammals.

Explore further

Why coronavirus could help save China’s endangered species

Unfair press for the pangolin? Brookfield Zoo experts fear possible coronavirus links may further threaten this at-risk animal.

Biggie, a pangolin at the Brookfield Zoo, moves in his enclosure on Feb. 13, 2020. World Pangolin Day is Saturday.
Biggie, a pangolin at the Brookfield Zoo, moves in his enclosure on Feb. 13, 2020. World Pangolin Day is Saturday. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Animal enthusiasts across the globe on Saturday will celebrate the ninth annual World Pangolin Day, designated to help protect what is believed to be the most illegally trafficked mammal on Earth.

Yet the festivities come in the wake of some bad press for this already at-risk animal. While research isn’t at all conclusive, some scientists in China have preliminarily named the highly poached pangolin as the possible transmitter of coronavirus to humans, potentially linking the rare and enigmatic creature to a public health epidemic that has killed more than a thousand globally and sickened 15 in the United States as of Thursday.

Now those working to save this intriguing, scale-covered mammal fear that anxiety over the new virus that originated in Wuhan, China, could further threaten the pangolin, whose eight species native to Asia and Africa range from vulnerable to critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“You can get an overreaction, that’s a possibility, that if the right information isn’t provided there would be a growing fear of pangolins out there, no matter where they are,” said Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of animal programs at the Brookfield Zoo.

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The Brookfield Zoo is among the few institutions in the United States that care for pangolins, which first arrived there in 2016. The gentle, reclusive animal seems to resemble an anteater, snake and armadillo all in one. It is the only mammal covered in an armor of keratin scales, known to roll up in a ball as its main protection against predators.

The zoo now houses a dozen white-bellied tree pangolins, a species indigenous to Africa. A male named Biggie is on display in the exhibit “Habitat Africa! The Forest.” The others are kept in private for breeding, zoo officials said.

Along with six other institutions, the zoo launched the Pangolin Consortium several years ago to help study and protect this lesser-known animal.

“This is a group of species that very little is known about,” Zeigler said. “Until recently we knew little about their reproductive physiology, how they communicate with one another. How do they meet? How do males and females find one another to breed? Can they survive in disturbed habitats?”

Brookfield Zoo's pangolin Biggie briefly moves around in his enclosure on Feb. 13, 2020.
Brookfield Zoo’s pangolin Biggie briefly moves around in his enclosure on Feb. 13, 2020. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Although internationally protected, the pangolin is illegally hunted for its prized meat as well as its scales, which are purported to cure a litany of ailments in the traditional medicine of various cultures. A report released earlier this week by the Wildlife Justice Commission warned the recent increase in trafficking of pangolins has reached “unprecedented levels.”

Citing preliminary genetic testing, researchers at a Chinese university earlier this month suggested the pangolin could be a “potential intermediate host” of coronavirus, possibly spreading the disease from bats to humans.

Many independent scientists have questioned these findings, saying more data are needed to draw any definitive conclusions.

The theory, though, ignited a spectrum of reactions on social media.

“Kill them all if we wanna stay alive … I love animals but that thing gotta go,” someone commented on the Twitter page of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a multigovernment treaty designed to protect vulnerable wildlife.

However, some expressed hope that poaching might decrease if the demand for pangolin meat and scales dwindled over potential coronavirus fears.

“Humans need to learn (a) lesson … animals don’t exist just for our consumption or abuse,” read another tweet.

Brookfield Zoo has various activities planned for World Pangolin Day, including several talks about the pangolin hosted by animal care experts. Kids can make pangolins out of pine cones ― the shape and texture mimicking the animal’s scaly frame — at the Hamill Family Play Zoo.

Zoo officials are also asking the public to sign a petition in support of Illinois legislation that would ban the sale, trade and distribution of pangolin products statewide.

The American public has only become aware of threats against the pangolin in the last decade or so, Zeigler said. But the animal’s popularity appears to have soared in that time, with dozens of YouTube videos of the mysterious creature getting hundreds of thousands of page views. A pangolin debuted in a 2016 episode of the PBS cartoon “Wild Kratts,” rescued by the show’s protagonists before nearly becoming an ingredient in a health food smoothie.

The pangolin has emerged as a poster child of sorts for the conservation movement, Zeigler said, in part due to its curious appearance and demeanor that many find adorable.

“If you’ve ever seen a pangolin pup on the back of its mother, this is just too cute of an animal to not be concerned about,” he said. “This is an animal that you look at and go, ‘My God, how does this animal survive out there?’ We need to protect it. It’s cuddly. It’s cute.”

Two cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Illinois, though both patients — a woman who recently traveled to Wuhan and her husband, who contracted it from her — were discharged from the hospital to home isolation earlier this month. Fifteen coronavirus cases had been confirmed across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Internationally, the virus has infected about 60,000 people, with more than 1,300 deaths.

Most health experts in the United States, however, say the risk of contracting coronavirus here is very low, and the flu is still a far more dangerous and ubiquitous threat.

Zeigler cautioned against alarm at any initial research connecting the pangolin to coronavirus, arguing that more definitive studies are necessary. He added that he hopes for a coronavirus vaccine as well as other methods to counter the person-to-person spread of the disease.

“There is the concern out there for the future of the pangolin,” he said. “My hope is that we’re able to create a vaccine and protect people, and stop the spread of this particular event. And at the same time, maintain and protect pangolins.”

Ban on international sale of rare reptiles, amid concern over growing trade on social media

A Tokay gecko
A rare Tokay gecko – popular with social media users CREDIT: CITES

Helena Horton
26 AUGUST 2019 • 5:00PM
The international trade in many rare and colourful reptiles has been banned, in a bid to crack down on smuggling fueled by social media.

The Union Island gecko is a beautiful lizard which has jewel-like markings, and is often illegally smuggled for the pet trade, despite its rarity.

It is only found on the small Caribbean island from which it gets its name, and it is thought there are only 9,960 individuals, but numbers are rapidly declining as a result of poaching for the illegal pet trade.

Now, commercial trade in the gecko has been completely banned, as it has been listed on Appendix I of the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), after world leaders voted for its protection.

Reptile owners covet the Tokay gecko, which is turquoise and covered in orange spots, as it is colourful and rare. Geckos are hugely popular on Instagram, where they are both sold and posted for “likes”.

However, it is often smuggled from Southeast Asia, southern China and India, where the little lizard was once abundant, in order to meet the demands of the European pet trade.

The species is now threatened with extinction and has declined up to
50 per cent in areas where it was once abundant.

The UK is one of the biggest markets for pet reptiles in the world, with an estimated eight million kept in British homes.

Now, it has been listed on Appendix II at CITES. This means the commercial trade in the little lizard will be curbed.

The tiger gecko also received this protection. This lizard is one of the most popular geckos to keep as pets, but unregulated collection of them coupled with habitat loss means it is at risk of extinction.

Sri Lanka’s hump-snout lizard, which is listed as vulnerable to extinction, is also popular in the pet market because of its distinctive colour and interesting snout.

Now, smuggling of the animal will be curbed as international trade in the lizard will be regulated, as it is listed on Appendix II.

However, glass frogs were not listed after the EU voted against regulation on international trade of the threatened species, which is popular in the pet trade Amphibian collectors covet glass frogs for their translucent bellies, which show their beating hearts.

Sumanth Bindumadhav, Campaign Manager, Wildlife for Humane Society International, said: “Tiger gecko species and the tokay are both extremely popular in pet trade owing to their beautiful pattern.
Unregulated collection of specimens from the wild is one of the major threats to their population aside from habitat loss. EU nations and USA are the largest destination markets for both these species.

“The tokay is also sold in its dried form for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Even as the countries debate on this proposal, tonnes of these geckos continue to be listed for sale on e-commerce websites. We are glad that an overwhelming majority of countries voted in favour of the tokay proposal and that the tiger gecko proposal was adopted by consensus.

“Effectively, this lists all tiger gecko species in China and Vietnam on Appendix II and tokay geckos across all its range States on Appendix II as well. We would like to thank the proponent nations for bringing this to the fore.”