By Leilani Chavez
Knowledge of the Philippine pangolin, the only pangolin species in the country, is scant. Sightings of the animal are rarer still. But unlike other pangolin species around the world that teeter on the brink of extinction, a new study suggests that with the appropriate conservation measures, the Philippines' endemic pangolin still has a shot at bouncing back.
In a study published last December in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, researchers conducting a comprehensive survey found that Philippine pangolins (Manis culionensis) have been spotted in 17 of the 24 municipalities in Palawan, the island province that's the only place on Earth where this species occurs.
"This is promising for the Philippine pangolin and suggests it is not too late to establish conservation efforts across the species' range," lead author Lucy Archer, from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), tells Mongabay.
An Enigmatic Species
So little is known about the Philippine pangolin that even as the IUCN considers the species to be critically endangered, there is no accepted estimate for its baseline population. The scientific literature suggests the species was never common, and interviews with Indigenous communities carried out in 2018 suggest it has been in sharp decline since the 1980s, the IUCN notes.
However, the newly published survey gives reason for optimism.
Similar comprehensive surveys assessing locals' knowledge of pangolins, done in West Africa for the giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) and in China and Vietnam for the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), show that locals strongly believe that their pangolin species are extinct: sightings are rare or non-existent. This isn't the case with the Philippine pangolins: locals are still seeing them, albeit very rarely, and the number of areas where they can be found is high.
"Compared to similar studies on pangolin species elsewhere, these results suggest that Philippine pangolin populations may not have reached the critical levels shown by Chinese pangolins in China and Vietnam, or by giant pangolins in Benin," Archer says. "This provides some hope for the species."
The survey ran from January to June 2019 and helps establish the species' distribution area based on residents' sightings. Locals call the animal balintong, which means "somersault," in reference to its habit of rolling away to hide from danger.
The Philippine pangolin was until 1998 thought to be a separate population of the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), which occurs across much of Southeast Asia, but not the Philippines. Its recognition as its own species coincided with a local poaching boom: high demand for pangolin scales in China and Vietnam, combined with increased enforcement on known Sunda pangolin trafficking routes, saw traffickers turn their attention to the Philippine pangolin.
Range of the four Asia pangolin species: the Chinese, Indian, Sunda and Philippine pangolins. A mix of colors within the maps indicates an overlap in the different species' distributions. The species' ranges are based on the IUCN Red List assessments (IUCN 2014). Note: The distribution maps are currently being updated by the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group. Image courtesy of University of Adelaide / TRAFFIC. Image courtesy of University of Adelaide / TRAFFIC
Local conservationists also link an increase in Chinese projects in the Philippines to growing demand for pangolin meat in restaurants in Manila catering to the influx of Chinese workers and visitors. In a span of two years, Philippine pangolins became one of the most trafficked species in the country, pushing them to critically endangered status both on the IUCN and the national red lists.
Initial trafficking seizures often turned up shipments carrying both pangolins and various turtle species. But since 2018, Philippine authorities have been intercepting shipments consisting solely of pangolin parts. In September 2019, authorities in Puerto Princesa City, the capital of Palawan, made the largest-ever seizure of Philippine pangolin scales: 1,154 kilograms (2,545 pounds), for which at least 3,900 pangolins would have been killed.
From 2018 to 2019, local authorities seized 6,894 Philippine pangolins, according to a recent report released by wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC. The figure is alarming, conservationists say, because there are no clear estimates for how many of the animals remain.
But while researchers are racing against time to save the local pangolin population, studies are limited by the pangolin's peculiar and cryptic habits. Pangolins are solitary, nocturnal, non-vocal and semi-arboreal. While these traits haven't been enough to protect them from poachers, they make it very difficult to study the species in the wild, Archer says.
"Imagine walking through a forest at night and trying to find something that makes little noise and might be found alone up a tree," she says. "It would take a lot of time and effort!"
These cryptic behaviors result in low detection probabilities, meaning the chances of spotting one, even if it's nearby, is "very small," Archer adds.
"General biodiversity surveys therefore rarely record pangolins and so specific targeted monitoring methods are needed," she says. "However, such methods are still in development for pangolins so we don't yet have accepted or standardized monitoring methods... partly because they are so difficult to find which therefore makes the development of such methods difficult!"
Locals Offer Clues
This is where the study by Archer and her team comes in. It adds to the existing knowledge base by drawing from what's called local ecological knowledge (LEK), a type of data that builds on first-hand observations or interactions of locals in an area where a species can be found.
"LEK is based on the premise that local people can often hold more information and provide important information and knowledge on rare species that utilize the same environments as them," Archer says. "It is clear from this result that local people hold a wealth of important knowledge on wildlife in their local areas — they are the real experts."
But while it has been used in conservation, particularly in community-led conservation efforts, locals' knowledge of their environments remains a largely underutilized data source. "Its benefits lie in being able to collect lots of information over wide geographical areas over a relatively short time frame and at low costs — this study took place over 6 months," Archer says.
"Hopefully, studies like this will aid the development of such methods as new monitoring methods can be trialed in areas where we at least know the species exists. We can also use local knowledge to target specific habitats and places where people have recently seen the species," Archer says.
Eighty-seven percent of respondents in the Palawan survey could identify and provide information on the Philippine pangolin, but said sightings are rare or very rare, even compared to other threatened species. This points to an urgent need to establish localized conservation initiatives, the study says. And the survey notes a high level of general local support for wildlife protection, particularly of the pangolin.
"With high knowledge levels and high willingness to be involved in conservation efforts reported by respondents in this study, I think local people are really well placed to help guide and develop conservation efforts," Archer says.
The study forms the basis for ZSL's conservation action and community engagement in the municipality of Taytay in northern Palawan, one of the identified conservation priority areas. Archer says a second phase involves using camera traps to monitor the species, which will hopefully aid in creating a community conservation area.
"We hope this will provide a useful body of information that local governments and conservation organizations can use to inform conservation efforts, and which future research can be compared to in order to track trends in species status and threats," she says.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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"This is the single greatest measure that could be taken to save the pangolins," WildAid CEO Peter Knights told National Geographic. "This sends a clear message that there are alternatives in traditional Chinese medicine and so you don't need to use pangolins."
China raises protection for #pangolins by removing scales from medicine list.— WildAid (@WildAid) June 9, 2020
Campaigners hope the move will help end global trade in the scaly anteater, identified as a possible host for COVID-19. https://t.co/c0VaMVp80i pic.twitter.com/mFFq6I8Ulk
All eight species of pangolin are at risk from extinction. Tens of thousands are killed every year for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam, and their scales, which are used for medicinal purposes. Three of the four species native to Asia are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list, according to The Guardian.
The delisting of the pangolin from the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) pharmacopoeia comes a week after the State Forestry and Grassland Administration (SFGA) raised their protection status. They are now at Class 1, the highest conservation level also enjoyed by pandas, National Geographic pointed out. It means almost all domestic trade and use of the animals is now prohibited.
Trafficked pangolin scales confiscated in Cameroon. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / CC BY 2.0
"This shows China's rapidly strengthened commitment to protecting wildlife," WildAid in Beijing chief representative Steve Blake told The Guardian of the two moves.
The delisting of the pangolin was not officially announced. Instead, it was first reported by China's Health Times newspaper.
"China will often intentionally let an announcement like this come out through the press rather than a formal announcement," Save Pangolins co-founder and Executive Director Paul Thompson told National Geographic.
He further told BBC News that the decision could be a "game changer" for pangolin conservation.
"We hope China's next move will be to enforce the regulations and work to change consumer behaviour," he said.
It’s been an exciting week of pangolin news with the announcement of stronger protections and the removal of their species from the official list of traditional Chinese medicines. https://t.co/KujtJ5nAOO— Save Pangolins (@SavePangolins) June 10, 2020
The change comes as the coronavirus pandemic has increased scrutiny of China's wildlife trade, and its trade in pangolins in particular.
The scaly animals have been found to carry a coronavirus strain similar to the one that causes COVID-19, and research is ongoing into whether or not trafficked pangolins enabled the virus to pass from another animal to humans, though no conclusions have yet been reached.
The specific wild animals sold at the Wuhan wet market where the pandemic is suspected to have started are not known, but 31 of 33 positive virus samples taken from the market were found in the wildlife area, The Guardian reported.
China banned the consumption of wild meat in response to the outbreak, but there are exceptions for medicine and fur, BBC News reported.
Lixin Huang, vice president of operations and China projects at the California Institute of Integral Studies, told National Geographic that international pressure following the pandemic, as well as the longer term efforts of wildlife advocacy groups, had prompted the pangolin's removal from the TCM.
"Coronavirus was another key trigger point," she said.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Alexander Richard Braczkowski, Christopher O'Bryan, Duan Biggs, and Raymond Jansen
Pangolins are also one of the world's most threatened species but new efforts are underway to reintroduce pangolins to parts of Africa where the animal has been extinct for decades.
The reintroduction of pangolins has not been easy. But it's vital to prevent this shy, mysterious creature from being lost forever.
A Cute But Threatened Species
Pangolins are the only mammals wholly-covered in scales, which they use to protect themselves from predators. They can also curl up into a tight ball.
They eat mainly ants, termites and larvae which they pick up with their sticky tongue. They can grow up to 1m in length from nose to tail and are sometimes referred to as scaly anteaters.
There is further evidence of the illegal trade in pangolin species openly on social media platforms such as Facebook.
The intense global trafficking of the species means the entire order (Pholidota) is threatened with extinction. For example, the Temminck's pangolins (Smutsia temminckii) went extinct in South Africa's KwaZulu Natal Province three decades ago.
Reintroduction of an Extinct Species
Each year in South Africa the African Pangolin Working Group (APWG) retrieves between 20 and 40 pangolins through intelligence operations with security forces.
These pangolins are often-traumatised and injured and are admitted to the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital for extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation before they can be considered for release.
In 2019, seven rescued Temminck's pangolins were reintroduced into South Africa's Phinda Private Game Reserve in the KwaZulu Natal Province.
Nine months on, five have survived. This reintroduction is a world first for a region that last saw a viable population of this species in the 1980s.
During the release, every individual pangolin followed a strict regime. They needed to become familiar with their new surroundings and be able to forage efficiently.
Pangolins released immediately following medical treatment had a low level of survival for various reasons, including inability to adapt to their release sites.
A ‘Soft Release’ in to the Wild
The process on Phinda game reserve involved a more gentle ease into re-wilding a population in a region that had not seen pangolins for many decades.
The soft release had two phases:
- a pre-release observational period
- an intensive monitoring period post release employing GPS satellite as well as VHF tracking tags.
The pre-release period lasted between two to three weeks and were characterised by daily walks (three to five hours) of individuals on the reserves. These walks were critical for acclimatising individuals to the local habitat, its sounds, smells and possible threats. It also helped them source suitable and sufficient ant and termite species for food.
Following that, the post release period of two to three months involved locating released pangolins daily at first, and then twice per week where they were weighed, a rapid health assessment was made and habitat features such as burrows and refuges monitored.
Phinda reserve manager Simon Naylor said:
A key component of the post release period was whether individuals gained or maintained their weight.
The way the animals move after release also reveals important clues to whether they will stay in an area; if they feed, roll in dung, enter burrows. Much of this behaviour indicates site fidelity and habitat acceptance.
Following nine months of monitoring and tracking, five of the seven survived in the region. One died of illness while the other was killed by a Nile crocodile.
Why Pangolin Reintroduction is Important
We know so little about this group of mammals that are vastly understudied and hold many secrets yet to be discovered by science but are on the verge of collapse.
The South African and Phinda story is one of hope for the Temminck's pangolin where they once again roam the savanna hills and plains of Zululand.
The process of relocating these trade animals back into the wild has taken many turns, failures and tribulations but, the recipe of the "soft release" is working.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed more than 2,700 lives and infected more than 81,000 people, most of them in China, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
A temporary ban on trade in wildlife announced in January was expected to continue until the epidemic was brought under control. However, with the spread of the disease caused by the virus, known as COVID-19, showing no signs of abating, a more comprehensive ban was passed on Feb. 24 by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), which exercises legislative power in the country.
Some see it as a step toward a permanent ban that would have to be enshrined in the wildlife laws of the country. If passed, it would be a big boost in the global fight against the illegal trade, since China is a major destination for trafficked animals. "If China is able to shut down the illegal animal trade, it will make the world a bit safer from viruses like SARS-CoV, and have a huge impact on wildlife conservation efforts," Benjamin Neuman, a virologist at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, told Mongabay in an email. "It's a thing that needs to happen, and if COVID-19 is the reason, so be it."
Though the trade in endangered species is banned under CITES, weak enforcement and substantial demand for animal meat and for animal products used in traditional medicines have hindered efforts to control this trade in China. Xinhua cited "the prominent problem of excessive consumption of wild animals, and the huge hidden dangers to public health and safety" as justification for the ban.
Researchers say they suspect the epicenter of the epidemic was a wet market in Wuhan, where wild animals and bushmeat was being sold. The novel coronavirus most likely originated in bats and made the jump to humans. The ban on wildlife trade and consumption is an attempt to limit the exposure of people to wild animals that could carry viruses that humans haven't encountered before and can't effectively defend against.
The suggestion that the new virus passed through an intermediary host like pangolins before infecting humans has brought attention to the illegal trade in wild animals. Pangolins, shy nocturnal animals found in Asia and Africa, are considered the most trafficked mammals in the world. Though trade in pangolins and pangolin products is banned in China and under the CITES treaty, there exists a massive demand for pangolin meat and scales for use in traditional medicine.
China's wildlife laws promulgated in 1989 regulate this trade, but it does not impose a total ban on consumption of meat from wild animals and allows captive breeding for commercial purposes.
The new ban was not introduced through an amendment to the country's wildlife laws, because the legislative session has been postponed in light of the coronavirus crisis. The ban, which takes immediate effect, covers not just wild-caught species recognized nationally and internationally as threatened species, but also the hunting, trading and transport of all terrestrial wild animals for human consumption. It also applies to wild animals born and raised in breeding facilities.
Beijing had already imposed a temporary embargo on sales of wild animals in January. The three state agencies that issued that restriction — the State Administration of Market Regulation, the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs, and the National Forestry and Grassland Administration — had warned against the consumption of wild animal meat, but hadn't gone so far as to ban it.
During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2003, a limited ban was similarly imposed by China, but was later lifted. "The embargo on wild animal trade is a reasonable decision for disease control," said Chengxin Zhang, a researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "The Chinese embargo of trading and consumption of civet, the most notable intermediate host of SARS coronavirus, is thought to partially contribute to the disease control and eventual containment of SARS."
Preliminary research done by Zhang and his colleagues, not yet peer-reviewed or published, supports claims that pangolins are a highly likely host, alongside bats, of the new coronavirus and others similar to it. "The involvement of bats, civets, and pangolins in the SARS and COVID-19 outbreak suggests that a permanent ban on wild animal trades by 'wet' markets should effectively minimize future risk of zoonotic disease spillovers," he said.
There is a growing call for China to keep the ban in place permanently and amend its wildlife laws accordingly. Conservationists say they hope a permanent ban and messaging around the dangers of wildlife consumption could dampen the demand for contraband wildlife products. Some surveys suggest that people are now more inclined to support such a ban. "There has been a growing concern among people over the consumption of wild animals and the hidden dangers it brings to public health security since the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak," Zhang Tiewei, a spokesman for the Chinese legislature's Legislative Affairs Commission, told Reuters.
Others fear that such a ban would push the trade underground and make it even harder to track the emergence of new diseases. According to the World Health Organization, almost three-quarters of all epidemics in recent decades have spilled over from animals. There are also concerns that such a ban will face stiff resistance from stakeholders in the multibillion-dollar wildlife trade industry in China, which employs millions of people.
The new ban also calls for better enforcement of existing laws, a long-standing demand from wildlife activists. The group of experts that advised the NPC Standing Committee on possible revisions to the wildlife laws also presented recommendations for finding substitutes for animal products that are used in traditional Chinese medicine, according to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.
"The aspects of traditional medicine that use ground-up animal parts are entirely based on superstition rather than science, and as the latest outbreak shows, are rather dangerous nonsense," Neuman said. "But tradition is a powerful thing, in China as everywhere else. If the Chinese government is willing to take strong measures to enforce the new rules, they may actually succeed."
Malavika Vyawahare is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter: @MalavikaVy
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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The pangolin's future looks gloomy, according to the latest update by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which assesses the conservation status of species.
Of the eight known species of the pangolin, one of the world's most trafficked mammals, two African species, the while-bellied (Phataginus tricuspis) and the giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea), have been moved from "vulnerable" to "endangered" on the IUCN Red List. One Asian species, the Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), has been uplisted from "endangered" to "critically endangered." No species improved in status in the assessment.
Much of the decline in the armor-clad mammals can be attributed to the loss of their habitat and large-scale poaching for the animals' scales and meat, experts say.
"It is extremely disheartening but unsurprising that three additional pangolin species are now formally classified as endangered and critically endangered," Audrey Delsink, Africa wildlife director of Humane Society International, said in a statement.
Pangolin scales, largely made of keratin just like human fingernails, are sought after in Asian markets, mainly China and Vietnam, where people erroneously believe the scales have medicinal properties, such as promoting menstruation and lactation and in treating rheumatism and arthritis.
The shy mammals are also hunted for bushmeat in Africa, although in China, pangolin meat is consumed both as a luxury food item and for its purported curative properties. In 2016, countries voted to list all eight species of pangolin on CITES Appendix I, banning commercial trade in the animals. Yet, widespread trafficking of their body parts continues.
Despite the rampant poaching, researchers know little about pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, because they eat ants and termites. The animals are nocturnal and difficult to survey, and there isn't a whole lot of quantitative information about their population status in the wild. What conservationists do know, however, is that both the live animal and its scales, meat, and other body parts keep appearing in illegal wildlife seizures around the world. Between 2000 and 2019, for instance, at least 850,000 pangolins were trafficked internationally, a recent study found.
Every species of pangolin is threatened with extinction, and their status is only getting worse. Three of the four Asian pangolins — the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), and Philippine pangolin — are critically endangered, while the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
All four African species — the Cape or Temminck's ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), white-bellied or tree pangolin, giant ground pangolin and black-bellied or long-tailed pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla) — were previously listed as vulnerable. The latest IUCN update moves two of these species to a higher threat category.
The pangolins' decline comes from both the widespread loss of their forest habitat and increased targeting by poachers, following the decline in Asian pangolin numbers, the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group noted in the species' assessments.
"Pangolins continue to get hammered by poaching and trade, and extinction is on the horizon for these adorably odd creatures," Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
Adam Peyman, wildlife programs and operations manager for Humane Society International, added, "The new Red List assessments illustrate the urgent need for action to stop these charming animals from slipping into extinction … The trafficking network is global, and so must our response be to save the pangolin."
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Pangolins, a type of scaly anteater considered the world's most trafficked wild mammal, have lost more than 50 percent of their range in eastern China, according to a study published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Researchers from Beijing Forestry University, the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College, London focused on Chinese pangolins (Manis pentadactyla), which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species lists as a critically endangered species, and found that their range had shrunk by 52.2 percent in eastern China between 1970 and 2016.
There are eight species of pangolins in Africa and Asia and they are hunted on both continents for food and for their unique scales, which are used in medicines, according to BBC News.
The Chinese pangolin can be found from Nepal's Himalayan foothills, then south through southern China to Taiwan and Hong Kong.
In response to their findings, the scientists urged the Chinese government to step up their conservation efforts of the mammals.
"Pangolins have been listed in the list of China's state key protected wild animals as level II," study authors Li Yang, Xiaofeng Luan and Minhao Chen of Beijing Forestry University told BBC News. "According to our research and previous research, we suggest that [the] protection level should change into level I."
The researchers used local historical documents, fauna records, scientific surveys from nature reserves, newspapers and scientific articles to assess changes to the Chinese pangolin's range in eastern China.
While the animals roamed more than 30.41 percent of eastern China in the 1970s, by the 2000s their range had shrunken to mountainous areas, especially the Wuyi Mountains.
The researchers also assessed the relative influence of climate change and human encroachment or poaching on the changes in range and found that direct human actions like poaching were responsible for its dramatic shrinking, according to Phys.org.
In fact, the researchers found that as the pangolin's range declined, their preferred habitats also increased in elevation, suggesting that they were fleeing the development of roads at lower altitudes that made it easier for humans to transport captured animals.
The researchers also made recommendations for how governments and communities could protect the animals on a local and regional level.
They suggested creating or expanding nature reserves and engaging local governments and communities in pangolin conservation efforts.
They noted that only 5.62 percent of the 51,268.4 square kilometers (approximately 19,794.8 square miles) that their research determined was the primary conservation area for pangolins was covered by existing reserves.
By John R. Platt
At first glance rhinos, pangolins and jaguars don't seem to have much in common.
But there are a few things that link them. For one thing, they're all targets of poachers and smugglers, who traffic in their body parts and threaten the species with extinction.
From her home base in Tucson, Ariz., Cota travels around the world in her quest to protect these and other species from wildlife trafficking. She's pushed for improved enforcement of existing laws and helped to educate the public about issues related to imperiled species. Cota has also authored hundreds of articles about conservation, as well as a special field guide to help customs agents and other enforcement issues identify pangolins and their body parts, which have become the most heavily trafficked animals in the world.
As Cota prepared to leave for Geneva for this month's meeting of the Animals Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), she spoke with us about her latest efforts to protect imperiled wildlife and what the world needs to do better to prevent these species from falling into extinction.
You organize the annual World Pangolin Day. How far do you feel pangolin awareness has come since you launched this in 2012, and how much further do we need to go?
I have a soft spot for the underdog and so launching World Pangolin Day has been one of the most rewarding projects of my wildlife career.
It is fantastic to see that World Pangolin Day has grown into a global event which is now recognized by pangolin people all over the world—local on-the-ground conservation programs, schools, artists, big international NGOs , as well as high-profile institutions such as the United Nations (CITES), USAID and the IUCN.
Pangolins are listed on CITES Appendix I, which bans international trade, and of course are protected by national laws throughout their range. In my opinion, providing education and training to help "first responders"—law enforcement and customs officers—work collaboratively is critical for protecting pangolins. Additionally, the courts need to treat wildlife crime cases with the utmost seriousness. Wildlife crime is organized crime, not an "animal rights" issue.
You also recently launched plans for World Jaguar Day, to be held June 11, 2019. What inspired this, and what do you hope to accomplish in the nearly one-year lead-up to the first event?
I have been following the global wildlife trafficking crisis for about 10 years now. I can't say I was at all surprised when illegal trade in jaguar teeth and bones surfaced and was linked to the famously insatiable Chinese demand for big cat body parts.
As a resident of the Tucson, Arizona, area, the jaguar's in my backyard. I believe if we shine the spotlight on the jaguar—let the rest of the world know that the biggest cat in the Americas is facing the same threat as tigers and lions and leopards—maybe we can get ahead of the situation before it gets out of control, like it has with tigers.
Plans for the 2019 launch of World Jaguar Day were hatched in April of this year, actually. Then in May, I attended the Madrean Conference here in Tucson and spent a day immersed in the state of the jaguar.
What really struck me is the approach of treating jaguars throughout their range as one population—including the United States. We need to stop saying "a few remnant individuals in the U.S." According to the jaguar experts at the Madrean Conference, where there is one male jaguar, there is a female jaguar.
In the lead-up to World Jaguar Day, we will be profiling innovative jaguar conservation programs and educating the public and the media about jaguar issues. We will be digging into the unsavory issue of jaguar trade and publishing our findings.
We're looking forward to providing a launching pad for jaguar conservationists, wildlife enthusiasts, big-cat fanatics, NGOs, zoos, schools, the private sector and individuals to celebrate the iconic jaguar.
What other species are you focusing on at the moment?
Like I said, I go for the underdog and as such, I'm taking a very close look at opportunities to help freshwater turtles and tortoises.
Looking at the broad world of wildlife trafficking, what progress or potential progress excites you the most lately?
Wildlife crime needs to be dealt with on par with other types of organized crime. I think that is starting to happen. Meaningful jail sentences are handed down more frequently than say five years ago, and I know that there are multiple law-enforcement training initiatives happening in Asia and Africa that are focused on wildlife crime.
What do you wish more people understood about the impacts of trade in wild species?
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the media still runs with stories about "legal trade will save the species" and "farming wildlife to meet demand" and "selling stockpiles to fund conservation" without doing proper research, particularly on the law-enforcement challenges. The notion of supplying captive-bred species to commercial markets has been proven time and again to have a disastrous effect on wild populations, including tigers, bears, crocodiles and ivory stockpiles, to name just a few disasters. There is an abundance of literature on this topic, and certainly no shortage of wildlife trade policy experts—real experts, not wildlife breeders or pro-trade advocates—available for interviews.
In my opinion, when media outlets publish information that suggests legal trade, wildlife farming or selling stockpiles are options for saving wildlife, it can harm the efforts of legitimate wildlife conservation organizations. When we are dealing with something as delicate and finite as wildlife, media and communications professionals should strive to educate the public, not confuse or hoodwink for the sake of a headline or more clicks.
The Good, the Bad and the Endangered: Wildlife Wins and Losses at CITES Standing Committee https://t.co/xKnam4nL63… https://t.co/SZMcxTNfnF— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1512501498.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
- Threatened Big Cats in the Spotlight for World Wildlife Day ›
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By Elly Pepper
Do you know what a pangolin is? Where it lives? Why it's so endangered?
Most people don't. But World Pangolin Day, which falls on Feb. 17, is a great place to start. So here are 10 facts—some fun, some not so fun—about one of the world's most vulnerable but least-known species.
1. The word "pangolin" comes from the Malay word "penggulung," which means "roller." When it's threatened, a pangolin will curl itself into a tight ball, which is impenetrable to predators, but makes them easy prey for poachers.
2. There are eight pangolin species—four in Asia and four in Africa. Pangolins are found throughout much of southeastern and eastern Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and across sub-Saharan Africa. They occupy a diverse array of habitats including tropical forests, grasslands, savannas and deciduous forests.
3. Pangolins are the only mammals that are covered in scales, which are made of keratin—just like our hair and finger nails.
4. Pangolins are the most trafficked wild animal in the world, with more than one million poached over the last decade. In Asia, pangolin scales, blood and fetuses are used to purportedly treat conditions like liver problems, skin issues, palsy and swelling, despite the fact that they lack any medicinal or therapeutic value. Pangolins also are considered delicacies in some Asian countries, with their meat selling for up to $200 per kilogram. Secondary threats to pangolins include habitat loss and the African bush meat trade.
5. Due to these threats, all eight species are listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List as either Endangered (extremely high risk of extinction), Endangered (very high risk of extinction) or Vulnerable (high risk of extinction). All eight species are also listed under Appendix I—the highest level of protection—of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which bans all commercial trade in the species.
6. Now that pangolins in Asia have all but disappeared, the illegal trade is turning to African pangolins. Large shipments from African countries bound for China and Viet Nam are seized regularly.
7. Pangolins can consume up to 20,000 ants and termites a day (more than 70 million a year) using their long, sticky tongues, which are often longer than their body when fully extended.
8. Pangolins are extremely vulnerable to stress, making them very difficult to keep in captivity. Most die within six months of capture.
9. Pangolins produce only one offspring per year, making it all the more difficult for the species to recover from poaching pressure.
10. Pangolins have large, curved claws that they use for excavating ant and termite nests, as well as for pulling bark off trees and logs to find their insect prey.
These curious creatures may not have the iconic status of elephants or tigers—two other highly endangered species—but they are just as deserving of protection. Let's use World Pangolin Day to learn about them and spread awareness of their existence and vulnerability.
EIA campaigners were at the 69th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee (SC69) in Geneva, Switzerland, last week.
A packed agenda saw a wide range of issues raised for discussion, from tiger farms and domestic ivory markets to management of seized timber stocks and guidance for demand reduction programs. Throughout the meeting, EIA were busy preparing and making interventions, lobbying delegates and coordinating with other NGOs, trying hard to maximize the effectiveness of CITES in preventing over-exploitation of wildlife worldwide.
Below is a short summary of some of the key issues EIA was working on, along with some major wins, losses and indications of high-stakes debates due up at the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) in Sri Lanka in 2019.
While we wanted to see Japan and Singapore commit to more robust actions to address their role in the ivory trade, we were happy to see that they continue to remain under the spotlight at CITES. Both countries will have to report on actions taken to reduce their role in ivory trade for the next CITES Standing Committee meeting in October 2018. In the coming months, we need to keep up the pressure to encourage Japan to close its domestic ivory market and for Singapore to take action against the individuals and businesses that use its port as a major transit point in the illegal ivory trade chain.
Netsuke, ivory ornaments and jewelery on sale in Tokyo, Japan EIAimage
Several CITES Parties, including Kenya, the EU and the U.S., stressed the need to continue to prioritize the fight to combat ivory trade in light of the high levels of poaching and ivory trafficking that remain a serious threat to elephants. The EU called on all parties to submit timely samples from large-scale ivory seizures for forensic analysis so it is possible to identify the source of the ivory concerned.
We are pleased about the adoption of a proposal submitted by African elephant range states calling on CITES Parties to report to the next standing committee on efforts to close their domestic ivory markets. EIA and other NGOs jointly made an intervention highlighting our expectation that by this time the UK and the EU would have adopted stringent action to close their own ivory markets. More information on how you can contribute to the ongoing public consultation on the closure of the UK ivory market is available here.
At CITES CoP17 last year, several Decisions were adopted directing the secretariat to work with parties and other members of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) to scrutinize illegal trade in Asian big cats, including in captive-bred animals. Implementation of those decisions is in large part dependent on funding for consultants to undertake reviews and analysis and for the secretariat to undertake special missions. The desired outcome will be a report to the next standing committee presenting a series of time-bound, country-specific recommendations.
At SC69, the official documents clearly illustrated that there hasn't been any real progress in initiating those reviews. There was no official information of substance to discuss so no working group was established. Instead, parties and NGOs made interventions from the floor, expressing concern at the lack of urgency with which this issue is being addressed.
The EU has provided funding for the review and missions to examine tiger and other Asian big cat farming, and urged other parties to provide funding for the wider review of Asian big cat conservation and illegal trade. EIA and others echoed the comments of India, the EU and the U.S., which noted there is sufficient information already available in previous CITES reports. We pointed out that NGOs have sufficient information on tiger farming and trade for the secretariat to easily identify countries of concern.
We also drew attention to the fact that trade in farmed tigers is not just sustaining and stimulating demand for wild tigers but is driving poaching and trade in leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards and, increasingly, jaguars and African lions.
It was encouraging to hear that not just India but Thailand and Russia have also been collating stripe pattern profile images of tigers using camera traps and, in Thailand, of captive tigers—all the more reason for any and all parties that have seized tiger skins to share images with these countries. Since India's database holds camera trap images dating back to 2006, images from historical seizures should be shared. We were disappointed that despite this being recommended by the Global Tiger Forum and NGOs, SC69 did not adopt such a practical measure.
We and every other organization that has information on illegal trade in Asian big cats, including farmed specimens, and information on trade in jaguar and African lion entering the same physical and online markets (where they are often sold as tiger) should ensure the secretariat has all the evidence it needs to make some hard-hitting calls to action ahead of the next standing committee.
EIA had also prepared a CITES Appendix I Asian big cat pocket guide on behalf of the CITES secretariat, which was distributed to parties only at the meeting. The guide offers a quick reference to distinguish the different cat skins and other body parts from fakes, as well as quick reference checklists for officials dealing with poaching and trafficking incidents.
EIA was initially frustrated by the lack of teeth in recommendations to tackle illegal fishing and trade in totoaba, which is responsible for the imminent extinction of the vaquita. On behalf of nine NGOs, we called for a high-level mission to be conducted, with timebound actions to be enacted by the U.S., Mexico and China.
Totoaba maws openly on sale in Guangzhou, China EIAimage
In the final moments of the meeting, there was a turn in the tide when the Mexican delegation supported EIA's intervention. We will be closely following the high-level mission in February 2018, working to ensure it includes meaningful actions to fully protect the last remaining handful of vaquita. Read more about this last-minute glimmer of hope here.
A heated debate on Monday saw Japan criticized for hunting sei whales, an endangered species listed on CITES Appendix I. Taking Appendix I species from the high seas for commercial benefit is prohibited, but since 2002 Japan's 'scientific' whaling program has repeatedly been exposed as a commercial operation, with a government-endorsed program to boost demand for whale meat.
While many parties and NGOs noted there was already enough evidence to take action on the grounds of non-compliance, SC69 ultimately decided more information is needed and requested that Japan invite CITES to undertake a technical mission to gain more insight into the situation.
International commercial trade in all eight pangolin species was banned by CoP17 last year following proposals submitted by 18 pangolin range states. However, a controversial document presented to SC69 implied the possibility of continued international trade in stockpiles of pangolin, a situation which would seriously undermine the ban and goes against both resolutions adopted by previous CoPs and a long-standing CITES precedent.
Live pangolin outside restaurant, Kings Romans complex, Laos EIAimage
While the vast majority of countries opposed this possibility, including several African pangolin range states which spoke passionately in opposition, China pushed hard to keep the option open. An amended document, which clarified that stockpiles cannot be traded, was ultimately adopted by vote, with China, Russia and Kuwait voting against.
EIA was disappointed to see China acting against the express wishes of the CITES community to undermine the ban, strong enforcement of which is sorely needed to save the world's most trafficked mammal.
The government of Laos has been under suspensions of trade in particular species for several years, but despite this there has been little progress from the government in addressing the corruption and governance issue that have left the country a wildlife criminal's paradise.
At SC69, Laos' non-compliance was the subject of a working group in which EIA and other NGOs participated. The U.S. called for Laos to face full trade suspensions now, while the EU favored a warning and a time-bound process for specific remedial action to ensure Laos sets up proper CITES authorities and takes action to stop trade in parts and products of tigers (including farmed tigers), elephants, rhinos, pangolins and other wildlife.
Laos' representatives agreed to a schedule that requires them to submit a time-bound action plan with indicators to implement the CITES recommendations by June 30, 2018. If there is no substantive progress, the secretariat has been given the mandate by the standing committee to recommend trade suspensions across the board.
With all the millions of dollars of aid flowing into Laos, and the steady flow of information from EIA and other NGOs regarding illegal wildlife trade, there is now little excuse for no further progress.