By John R. Platt
A porcupine's diet is wide, varied, and a little hard to digest. A lifetime of grasses, herbs, bark and other vegetation can leave little bits of indigestible matter behind in a porcupine's digestive tract, where they occasionally congeal into a hard ball called a bezoar.
A bezoar and typical medical claims, posted to Instagram. Screen grab July 24, 2020.<p>Previous research has suggested that bezoars only grow in an incidentally small portion of the porcupine population, so the total number of animals killed to accumulate that quantity for sale could conceivably have been in the tens of thousands.</p><p>And since the study didn't look at the e-commerce sites every day, it probably uncovered only a portion of the total trade.</p><p>This paper calls for more study about this issue and additional conservation actions to protect porcupines. Currently the various species enjoy some national-level protection but precious little on the international level, because they're still perceived as relatively common. In fact, most old-world porcupine species currently appear on the IUCN Red List as <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=porpupine&searchType=species" target="_blank">either "least concern" or "data deficient."</a> Only the <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/10753/22231557" target="_blank">Philippine porcupine</a> (<em>Hystrix pumila</em>) is listed as "vulnerable to extinction." None are currently protected by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species.</p><p>Should that change? While the authors acknowledge the limitations caused by their study's short time frame and their inability to examine and verify the nature of the bezoars (some of which could have come from other animals or been counterfeits), they still uncovered an alarming level of trade. The authors warn that "current trade levels are likely unsustainable, and we predict that porcupine species may become threatened in the future should current trade levels continue."</p><p>And while some porcupines are farmed, this study indicates pressure on wild porcupines, which also face threats from habitat destruction and the bushmeat trade, as well as persecution as agricultural pests. It suggests a need to protect certain populations which fetch higher prices due to their purported purity. The study quotes one popular website: <em>"The most valuable for the porcupine bezoars are procured from … the rainforest of Indonesia or Borneo. The porcupines here eat unpolluted herbs that have high medicinal value causing the bezoars … to be of the rarest and highest value. The price is very high and has collection, medicinal and stockpiling value."</em></p><p>In many ways this isn't surprising. The bezoar trade has been around for centuries, and it isn't restricted to southern Asia. The paper notes that Europeans in the 16th to 19th centuries, who sometimes wore the stones as jewelry, valued porcupine bezoars so much they priced each one "as high as forty times its own weight in gold."</p><p>Bezoars today don't fetch quite that amount, but the study still found them selling for around $151 a gram — two and a half times the current price of gold — all for a useless clump of congealed, inedible food.</p><p>Too bad we don't value a living porcupine half that much.</p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/john/" target="_blank">John R. Platt</a> is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard</em><em style="">, and numerous other magazines and publications. His "Extinction Countdown" column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.</em></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Sharon Guynup
The Brazilian Amazon is hemorrhaging illegally traded wildlife according to a new report released Monday. Each year, thousands of silver-voiced saffron finches and other songbirds, along with rare macaws and parrots, are captured, trafficked and sold as pets. Some are auctioned as future contestants in songbird contests. Others are exported around the globe.
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Four poachers in Uganda were arrested for killing one of the country's rare silverback mountain gorillas, according to CNN.
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By Alexander Richard Braczkowski, Christopher O'Bryan, Duan Biggs, and Raymond Jansen
A Cute But Threatened Species<p><a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/what-is-a-pangolin" target="_blank">Pangolins</a> 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.</p><p>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.</p><p>But <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128155073000332" title="Chapter 33 - Conservation strategies and priority actions for pangolins" target="_blank">all eight</a> pangolin species are classified as "<a href="https://www.pangolins.org/tag/endangered-species/" target="_blank">threatened</a>" under International Union for Conservation of Nature <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=pangolin&searchType=species" target="_blank">criteria</a>.</p><p>There is an unprecedented demand for their scales, primarily from countries in Asia and <a href="https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12389" title="Assessing Africa‐Wide Pangolin Exploitation by Scaling Local Data" target="_blank">Africa</a> where they are used in food, cultural remedies and <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/141072b0" title="Chinese Medicine and the Pangolin" target="_blank">medicine</a>.</p><p>Between 2017 and 2019, seizures of pangolin scales <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/02/pangolin-scale-trade-shipments-growing/" target="_blank">tripled in volume</a>. In 2019 alone, 97 tons of pangolin scales, equivalent to about 150,000 animals, were <a href="https://oxpeckers.org/2020/03/nigeria-steps-up-for-pangolins/" target="_blank">reportedly</a> intercepted leaving Africa.</p>
Reintroduction of an Extinct Species<p>Each year in South Africa the African Pangolin Working Group (<a href="https://africanpangolin.org/" target="_blank">APWG</a>) retrieves between 20 and 40 pangolins through intelligence operations with security forces.</p><p>These pangolins are often-traumatised and injured and are admitted to the <a href="http://www.johannesburgwildlifevet.com/our-hospital" target="_blank">Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital</a> for extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation before they can be considered for release.</p><p>In 2019, seven rescued Temminck's pangolins were reintroduced into South Africa's <a href="https://www.andbeyond.com/destinations/africa/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/phinda-private-game-reserve/" target="_blank">Phinda Private Game Reserve</a> in the KwaZulu Natal Province.</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p>
A ‘Soft Release’ in to the Wild<p>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.</p><p>The soft release had two phases:</p><ol><li>a pre-release observational period</li><li>an intensive monitoring period post release employing GPS satellite as well as VHF tracking tags.</li></ol>
Why Pangolin Reintroduction is Important<p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p>
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By Neil Carter
Tigers are one of the world's most iconic wild species, but today they are endangered throughout Asia. They once roamed across much of this region, but widespread habitat loss, prey depletion and poaching have reduced their numbers to only about 4,000 individuals. They live in small pockets of habitat across South and Southeast Asia, as well as the Russian Far East — an area spanning 13 countries and 450,000 square miles (1,160,000 square kilometers).
Letting Humans In<p>Road construction <a href="http://tigers.panda.org/news/asias-infrastructure-development-threatens-worlds-tigers/" target="_blank">worsens existing threats to tigers</a>, such as poaching and development, by paving the way for human intrusion into the heart of the tiger's range. For example, in the Russian Far East, roads have led to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7998.2008.00458.x" target="_blank">higher tiger mortality</a> due to increased collisions with vehicles and more encounters with poachers.</p><p>To assess this threat across Asia, we focused on areas called Tiger Conservation Landscapes — 76 zones, scattered across the tiger's range, which conservationists see as crucial for the species' recovery. For each zone we calculated road density, distance to the nearest road and relative mean species abundance, which estimates the numbers of mammals in areas near roads compared to areas far from roads. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1522488113" target="_blank">Mean species abundance</a> is our best proxy for estimating how roads affect numbers of mammals, like tigers and their prey, across broad scales.</p><p>We also used <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aabd42" target="_blank">future projections of road building</a> in each country to forecast the length of new roads that might be built in tiger habitats by 2050.</p>
More Roads, Fewer Animals<p>We estimated that more than 83,300 miles (134,000 kilometers) of roads already exist within tiger habitats. This is likely an underestimate, since many logging or local roads are missing from the global data set that we used.</p><p>Road densities in tiger habitat are one-third greater outside of protected areas, such as national parks and tiger reserves, than inside of protected areas. Non-protected areas averaged 1,300 feet of road per square mile (154 meters per square kilometer), while protected areas averaged 980 feet per square mile (115 meters per square kilometer). For tiger populations to grow, they will need to use the forests outside protected areas. However, the high density of roads in those forests will jeopardize tiger recovery.</p><p>Protected areas and priority conservation sites — areas with large populations of tigers — are not immune either. For example, in India — home to more than <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/07/29/746237332/census-finds-nearly-3-000-tigers-in-india" target="_blank">70% of the world's tigers</a> — we estimate that a protected area of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_reserves_of_India" target="_blank">500 square miles, or 1,300 square kilometers</a>, contains about 200 miles (320 kilometers) of road.</p><p>Road networks are expansive. More than 40% of areas where tiger breeding has recently been detected — crucial to tiger population growth — is within just 3 miles (5 kilometers) of a nearby road. This is problematic because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2010.02.009" target="_blank">mammals often are less abundant</a> this close to roads.</p><p>In fact, we estimate that current road networks within tiger habitats may be reducing local populations of tigers and their prey by about 20%. That's a major decrease for a species on the brink of extinction. And the threats from roads are likely to become more severe.</p>
Estimated road densities for 76 tiger conservation landscapes (colored zones), with darker red indicating more roads per unit area. Neil Carter / CC BY-ND
Making Infrastructure Tiger-Friendly<p>Our findings underscore the need for planning development in ways that interfere as minimally as possible with tiger habitat. Multilateral development banks and massive ventures like the Belt and Road Initiative can be important partners in this endeavor. For example, they could help establish an international network of protected areas and habitat corridors to safeguard tigers and many other wild species from road impacts.</p><p>National laws can also do more to promote <a href="https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/27751" target="_blank">tiger-friendly infrastructure planning</a>. This includes keeping road development away from priority tiger populations and other "no go" zones, such as tiger reserves or habitat corridors.</p><p>Zoning can be used around infrastructure to prevent settlement growth and forest loss. Environmental impact assessments for road projects can do a better job of assessing how new roads might exacerbate hunting and poaching pressure on tigers and their prey.</p><p>Funding agencies need to screen proposed road developments using these tiger-friendly criteria before planners finalize decisions on road design, siting and construction. Otherwise, it might be too late to influence road planning.</p><p>There are also opportunities to reduce the negative effects of existing roads on tigers. They include closing roads to vehicular traffic at night, decommissioning existing roads in areas with important tiger populations, adding road signs announcing the presence of tigers and constructing wildlife crossings to allow tigers and other wildlife to move freely through the landscape.</p><p>Roads will become more pervasive features in Asian ecosystems as these nations develop. In my view, now is the time to tackle this mounting challenge to Asian biodiversity, including tigers, through research, national and international collaborations and strong political leadership.</p>
The Denver Zoo may be closed to visitors to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, but, for the animals inside, life goes on.
There's a welcome bit of good news coming out of Africa. After immense conservation efforts, the numbers of critically endangered black rhinoceroses is slowly ticking up, according to the latest figures released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as the BBC's Science Focus reported.
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service<p>"The shipment violated the Lacey Act and included CITES listed species," Gavin Shire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chief of Public Affairs, told <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/04/us/shark-fins-seized-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a>. "We are limited to what we can say about this as it is an ongoing case."</p> <p>While it is illegal in the U.S. to cut off a fin from a live shark and discard the rest of the animal, it is not illegal to traffic or trade shark fins in the U.S. </p> <p>"The recent seizure of more than 1,000 pounds of shark fins in Miami from potentially protected species demonstrates why we need a federal shark fin ban," said Ariana Spawn, an ocean advocate at the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana, as <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/04/us/shark-fins-seized-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">CNN reported</a>. She urged the Senate to pass the <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/877" target="_blank">Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act</a> (S.877), which would ban the trade of fins nationwide.</p>
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By Fred Kockott
Wildlife ACT response team with the bodies of 13 white-backed vultures, poisoned for the traditional medicine trade. Wildlife ACT / Mongabay<p>Nearby was the body of an impala — snared, killed, and laced with poison. The rangers burned all the contaminated carcasses to ash to remove the poison from the ecosystem.</p><p>It is the fourth vulture poisoning incident in northern Zululand this year, bringing the total recorded number of vultures harvested for body parts in this region alone to 53. The actual number of birds killed is believed to be much higher as many incidents are never detected.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.ewt.org.za/what-we-do/what-we-do-species/vultures-for-africa/" target="_blank">Endangered WildLife Trust's (EWT) Vultures for Africa Programme</a> manager, Andre Botha, said it was difficult to quantify how many vultures are deliberately poisoned for body parts.</p><p>According to records kept by EWT, more than 1,200 vultures have been deliberately poisoned in Southern and Eastern Africa this year. Culprits include poachers who poison the carcasses of elephant and other game in an apparent effort to conceal illegal activities from rangers. These poisonings are referred to as "sentinel poisonings", as vultures circling over poached animals alert rangers to the killings.</p>
Poisoned vulture: more than 1,200 vultures have been deliberately poisoned in Southern and Eastern Africa in 2019. Wildlife ACT / Mongabay<p>"Vultures provide critically important ecosystem services by cleaning up carcasses thus reducing the spread of dangerous diseases such as anthrax and rabies and resulting in highly significant economic and human health benefits," said Brent Coverdale, an animal scientist for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife at the symposium. "We really can't afford to lose them."</p><p>As vultures are protected by law, it is illegal to possess or kill any of the six vulture species found in South Africa. Nevertheless, deliberate killings continue.</p><p>Roberts said the latest poisoning incident had been reported to local police.</p><p>"We are hoping this leads to an arrest," said Roberts. "If the illegal harvest of these birds is not halted, then extinction may be just around the corner and the services that they provide within the ecosystem will be lost forever."</p><p>As part of a bid to save vulture populations, managers of conservation areas and private game reserves in South Africa are collaborating to <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/11/lift-off-for-first-african-vulture-safe-zones/" target="_blank">create safe havens for existing vulture populations</a>.</p><p><em><em>Fred Kockott is the founding director of <a href="https://rovingreporters.co.za/" target="_blank">Roving Reporters</a>, a journalism training agency that focuses on environmental, social and justice issues.</em></em></p><p><em>Additional reporting by Mlu Mdletshe, Roving Reporters.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/alarm-over-mass-vulture-poisoning-in-south-africa/" target="_blank">Mongabay</a>.</em></p>
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The world's oldest known living black rhino has died at age 57.