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A passerby looks at a picture that is part of a campaign to save the rhino in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo credit: Michael Tatarski / Mongabay

Graffiti Campaign Inspires Protection of Endangered Rhinos

By Michael Tatarski

Throughout the month of March, a unique graffiti campaign popped up on the walls of several streets in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, the hyperactive commercial capital of Vietnam. The works differed from the usual tags and designs that adorn urban areas around the world. The graffiti pieces, 17 in all, carry a simple message: "Save the rhinos" or "Cứu tê giác" in Vietnamese.

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This Map Shows How Your Consumption Habits Impact Wildlife Thousands of Miles Away

By Shreya Dasgupta

Global trade has made it easier to buy things. But our consumption habits often fuel threats to biodiversity—such as deforestation, overhunting and overfishing—thousands of miles away.

Now, scientists have mapped how major consuming countries drive threats to endangered species elsewhere. Such maps could be useful for finding the most efficient ways to protect critical areas important for biodiversity, the researchers suggest in a new study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

"Conservation measures must consider not just the point of impact, but also the consumer demand that ultimately drives resource use," the researchers wrote in the paper.

Researchers Daniel Moran of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Keiichiro Kanemoto of Shinshu University in Japan, identified 6,803 threatened species (species that are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List) and pinpointed the commodities that contribute to various threats affecting those species. Then they traced the implicated commodities to their final consumers in 187 countries using a global trade model.

The resulting maps can tell which countries and which commodities, threaten species at the various hotspots, the researchers said.

For example, the maps show that commodities used in the U.S. and the European Union exert several threats on marine species in Southeast Asia, mainly due to overfishing, pollution and aquaculture. The U.S. also exerts pressure on hotspots off the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and at the mouth of the Orinoco around Trinidad and Tobago. European Union's impacts extend to the islands around Madagascar: Réunion, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

The maps also revealed some unexpected linkages. For instance, the impact of U.S. consumption in Brazil appears to be much greater in southern Brazil (in the Brazilian Highlands where agriculture and grazing are extensive) than inside the Amazon basin, which receives a larger chunk of the attention. The U.S. also has high biodiversity footprint in southern Spain and Portugal, due to their impacts on threatened fish and bird species. These countries are rarely perceived as threat hotspots.

EU consumption is fueling threats in African countries like Morocco, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Zimbabwe. Similarly, consumption in Japan is driving threat hotspots in Southeast Asia, and around Colombo and southern Sri Lanka, where threats are linked to tea, rubber and other manufactured goods sent to Japan.

Global species threat hotspots linked to consumption in the EU-27.Moran and Kanemoto, Nature, Ecology & Evolution

The researchers write that their maps can help connect conservationists, consumers, companies and governments to better target conservation actions. Companies, for example, can use the maps to see where their inputs are sourced and to reduce their biodiversity impacts. Conservationists, too, can use the maps to identify the intermediate and final consumers whose purchases sustain industries that threaten endangered species.

"Connecting observations of environmental problems to economic activity, that is the innovation here," Moran said in a statement. "Once you connect the environmental impact to a supply chain, then many people along the supply chain, not only producers, can participate in cleaning up that supply chain."

Map showing areas of threat hotspots driven by U.S. consumption. Moran and Kanemoto, Nature, Ecology & Evolution

Global species threat hotspots linked to consumption in Japan.Moran and Kanemoto, Nature, Ecology & Evolution

Global species threat hotspots linked to consumption in the China.Map by Moran and Kanemoto, Nature, Ecology & Evolution

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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China Seizes Massive Amount of Pangolin Scales in Biggest-Ever Smuggling Case

By Shreya Dasgupta

Pangolin—the world's most trafficked mammal—continues to be killed in huge numbers.

On Wednesday, Chinese customs officials announced that they had seized more than three metric tons (3,000 kilograms or 6,600 pounds) of pangolin scales in Shanghai. This is the country's largest-ever smuggling case involving pangolin parts, officials reportedly said.

Customs officials discovered the massive amount of scales on Dec. 10, 2016. The scales had been packed in 101 bags concealed within a timber consignment imported from Africa. Some 5,000 to 7,500 wild pangolins are estimated to have been killed for these scales, officials told ShanghaiDaily.com.

Three people have been arrested so far, and the case is still under investigation according to South China Morning Post.

Pangolins use their scaly armor to protect themselves. Unfortunately, these protective scales have become the very reason for their population collapse.

Today, eight species of pangolins survive, four each in Asia and Africa. All four Asian species are on the verge of extinction, while the African species are moving towards a similar fate, thanks to rising demand for pangolin meat and scales in China.

Although pangolin scales are made of keratin, just like human fingernails and rhino horns, people (incorrectly) believe that they contain medicinal properties. Traders claim that pangolin scales can promote menstruation and lactation, and treat rheumatism and arthritis. But these claims remain unproven. Consumption of pangolins has also become a status symbol as supply becomes scarce and demand increases.

The three ton seizure is just the tip of an iceberg, officials say.

According to a new study published in Conservation Letters, more than 21,000 kilograms (~46,000 pounds) of scales and 23,109 individual pangolins were recorded in a total of 206 seizure reports between January 2008 and March 2016. This is equivalent to nearly 66,000 individuals, the researchers estimate.

Most seizures were made at three Chinese cities—Fangchenggang, Kunming and Guangzhou. This suggests that "Interventions in these cities could have a disproportionately strong impact on the entire illegal pangolin trade network," the authors write in the paper.

Vietnam appears to be the major source country for illegal pangolins seized in China, the study found, with Fangchenggang the major entry point. Myanmar, too, serves as an important source of pangolins and is fast emerging as a major transit hub for smuggled pangolins and their parts to meet China's demands.

Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) in central Democratic Republic of the Congo.Valerius Tygart / Wikimedia Commons

All eight species were recently up-listed to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This bans international trade in these animals and represents the highest level of protection available under international law.

But disrupting the illegal pangolin trade will require "significant cooperation and coordination between China's dispersed law enforcement parties: customs in screening cargo, urban administrative police in inspecting of markets, traffic police in checking private cars, People's Armed Police and forestry police in monitoring borders and remote areas," the researchers write.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

Slideshow: 20 New Species of 2016

By Shreya Dasgupta

Discovering a new species is always exciting—it shows that much of our world remains to be explored and described. This year, too, scientists discovered and described several new species of animals and plants, including 13 new dancing peacock spiders, a new crab that was found in a pet market, a new species of whale, a tarantula that shoots balls of barbed hair at enemies and one bird that is now 13 distinct species.

Unfortunately, many of the new species are already on the brink of extinction, threatened by poaching, wildlife trade, habitat destruction and diseases.

Below are Mongabay's picks for top new species discovered in 2016 (in no particular order). Note: for each entry, the publication and author are listed in parentheses.

1. New species of Beaked Whale (Mongabay, by Jeremy Hance)

2. Thirteen New Dancing Peacock Spiders (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta, Mike Gaworecki)

3. Rare Devil’s Orchid (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

4. Three New Species of Mouse Lemurs (Mongabay, by Mike Gaworecki)

5. Deepest Fish Species Discovered by Deep-Diving (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

6. Silver Boa That Is “On Its Way to Extinction” (Mongabay, by Mike Gaworecki)

7. Rabbit-Like Pika (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

8. Caribbean Plants Named After James Bond (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

9. Giant Air-Breathing Fish (National Geographic, by Brian Clark Howard)

10. Tarantula That Shoots Balls of Barbed Hairs at Enemies (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

11. Two Species of Magnolia Discovered Online (BBC)

12. New Scops Owl (Mongabay, by Mike Gaworecki)

13. Parasitic Orchid That Never Blooms (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

14. Spider That Looks like the ‘Sorting Hat’ from Harry Potter (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

15. Six New Deep-Sea Animals Discovered in Undersea Hot Springs (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

16. Three New Miniature Salamanders Are Already Headed for Extinction (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

17. Crab Discovered in Chinese Fish Market (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

18. New Millipede Has 414 legs, 4 Penises (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

19. Smallest of Giant Flowers (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)

20. One Bird That Became 13 (Motherboard, by Kaleigh Rogers)

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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