Why Pangolins are the new Rhinos:The Heartbreaking Poaching Epidemic You Haven´t Heard of Yet

This image was first published in the 1 st (18...
This image was first published in the 1 st (1876–1899), 2 nd (1904–1926) or 3 rd (1923–1937) edition of Nordisk familjebok. The copyrights for that book have expired and this image is in the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Heartbreaking Poaching Epidemic You Haven’t Heard of Yet

Why pangolins are the new rhinos.

November 8, 2013

panolin rescue
(Photo: Sukree Sukplang/Reuters)

Pangolins are among the oddest and least-familiar animals on Earth. They’re mammals, but they’re armor-plated. Their chief defensive posture is to tuck their heads under their tails and roll up, like a basketball crossed with an artichoke. (It works: Even lions generally can’t get a grip.) They have tongues that are not only coated with a sticky, fly paper–like substance but can also extend up to 16 inches to probe into nests and snag ants for dinner. They’re shy, nocturnal and live either high up trees or deep underground.

Lisa Hywood has lately discovered just how charismatic these obscure creatures can be. At the Tikki Hywood Trust, her rescue center in Zimbabwe, one of her current guests, named Chaminuka, recognizes Hywood and makes a soft chuffing noise when she comes home. Then he stands up to hold her hand and greet her, she tells me. (Bit of a snob, though: He doesn’t deign to recognize her assistants.) Hywood finds working with pangolins even more emotionally powerful than working with elephants.

It’s also more urgent: Pangolins, she says, are “the new rhinos,” with illegal trade now raging across Asia and Africa. They are routinely served up as a status symbol on the dinner plates of the nouveaux riches in China and Vietnam. Their scales are ground up, like rhino horn, into traditional medicines. Pangolin scales, like rhino horn, are made from keratin and about as medicinally useful as eating fingernail clippings. When poachers get caught with live pangolins, Hywood rehabilitates the animals for reintroduction to the wild.

But a lot of pangolins aren’t that lucky. By one estimate, poachers have killed and taken to market as many as 182,000 pangolins since 2011. And the trade seems only to be growing bigger. In northeastern India early this week, for instance, authorities nabbed a smuggler with 550 pounds of pangolin scales. Something like that happens almost every week. Many more shipments make it through.

There is little prospect that this trade will stop, short of extinction for the eight pangolin species. Two of the four species in Asia are currently listed as endangered and likely to be moved soon to critically endangered status. As pangolins have vanished from much of Asia, demand has shifted to Africa, which also has four species. The price for a single animal there can now run as high as $7,000, according to Darren Pietersen, who tracks radio-tagged pangolins for his doctoral research at the University of Pretoria.

Hunters use dogs to locate arboreal pangolins or set snares outside the burrows of ground-dwelling species. That rolled-up defensive posture, which works so well against lions, just makes it easier for human hunters to pick them up and bag them, says Dan Challender, cochair of the Pangolin Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. His research has taken him to a restaurant in Vietnam where, by chance, he witnessed a pangolin being presented live to a diner, then killed to be eaten. At such restaurants, stewed pangolin fetus is a special treat.

The trade is already illegal in many countries, and it is also banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. But enforcement is minimal, and even poachers seized with tons of smuggled animals often get away with a wrist slap. Authorities sometimes dispose of these shipments by auction, cashing in on the illegal market

It could be worse than what’s happening to elephants and rhinos.

Zoos at least know how to breed those species in captivity, says Hywood. But so far, no one has managed to captive-breed any of the eight pangolin species. That means that if Chaminuka and his ilk go extinct in the wild before scientists can figure that out, these curious creatures will be gone forever.

http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/11/08/pangolin-poaching-epidemic-you-havent-heard-yet?cmpid=tpanimals-eml-2013-11-9-pangolins                   HERE YO´LL FIND THAT PETITION, too

Eating Poison Is the Black Rhinos´Secret to Desert Survival


Eating Poison Is the Black Rhinos’ Secret to Desert Survival

In the dry season, certain animals have turned to the deadly milk bush for sustenance.

August 19, 2013

Black rhinos are one African desert animal that has developed the superpower to consume poison. (Photo: Courtesy of Wilderness Safaris)

The desert has never been an easy place to make a living. There’s not usually much rain, and the vegetation is sparse and runty. Yet, when I was traveling not long ago in the arid landscape of Namibia, on the southwest coast of Africa, there was wildlife everywhere.

The animals seemed to have adapted to the desert in ways that flouted their very nature. One day, for instance, I watched as a giraffe spread out its front legs and canted its long neck down, not up, to browse on a stunted little thing known, unpromisingly, as the smelly shepherd’s tree.

Later, we stopped at one of the big clumps of milk bush that dot the landscape like haystacks in a Monet painting. The milk bush is actually a succulent, Euphorbia damarana, and it’s found only in this region.

Makumbi Swenyeho, a wildlife guide at Desert Rhino Camp, where I was staying, snapped open one of the pipe-like stems, which promptly bled a white latex liquid. It’s poisonous, he said, and effective enough that Bushmen hunters use it on the tips of their arrows. Contact with the skin can cause severe burning. According to local lore, 11 miners who had been brought into the area to work died just from eating food cooked over a fire built with milk bush branches.

Milk bush, a poisonous succulent, found only around the southwest coast of Africa. (Photo: Courtesy of Richard Conniff)

But against all odds, black rhinos have adapted to make it one of their staple foods out here in the desert. They also like the haystack shape of the milk bush so much that they sometimes climb aboard and fall asleep. Locals refer to the flattened remains as a “rhino mattress.”

Gemsbok, big antelopes with a pair of three-foot-long unicorn horns on their foreheads, fled from us up the hillsides, looking like fanciful creatures out of a medieval bestiary. “They can go five or six days without water,” said Swenyeho. That’s remarkable not just because the daytime temperature in the Kunene region where I was visiting can rise to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, but also because a gemsbok can weigh up to about 500 pounds.

Gemsbok grazing in Namibia. (Photo: Dana Allen/Courtesy of Wilderness Safaris)

Now a new study in PLOS One reveals how the gemsbok do it. Like other antelope, they are primarily grazers, and get much of their water from grass. But the authors, from the University of Namibia and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, wondered what happens in droughts and dry seasons, when the grasses wither away.

The authors note that deserts are likely to spread as a result of climate change, leading to a loss of plant production, and perhaps also to species extinction.

“We therefore asked how antelope species respond to changes in food availability in semi-desert ecosystems,” the authors write. To find out they took tissue samples from gemsbok that had been killed by hunters, and profiled the isotopes left in the flesh by the foods the gemsbok had eaten.

The result: Gemsbok, like black rhinos, turn to the milk bush for sustenance in the dry season. Those pipe-like branches and the milky white liquid make up as much as 40 percent of their diet. No one knows how either species has adapted to handle the potent toxins in the milk bush. But the new study implies that, as the climate changes, other species hoping to avoid extinction may just have to figure out how to eat poison, too.