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Risk to Obscure Creature, Highlights Pangolin Seizures in Asia

The best recent journalism to appear in English on the subject of endangered wildlife in Vietnam was published on April 7 in The New York Times’ travel section of all places.

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Customs officers look at seized endangered pangolin scales displayed at a customs house in Hong Kong, following a record seizure of endangered pangolin scales, Hong Kong, Feb. 1, 2019. RFA

Huge seizures in recent years of trafficked pangolins have drawn worldwide attention to the threat of extinction faced by these armadillo-like anteaters.

It will come as a surprise to some that pangolins top the list of world’s most trafficked endangered mammals.

They’re much sought after in both China and Vietnam for their meat and their scales, which when ground up are believed to remove toxins and cure a variety of ailments, including everything from arthritis to cancer.

Users boil the pangolin to remove the scales, then dry and roast them.

Pangolins can be found in many Asian and African countries, although they are reported to have nearly disappeared from lowland Laos.

Many citizens in China, Vietnam, and Hong Kong believe that pangolin scales have medical uses, but experts, even including some of China’s traditional medicine practitioners, say that no scientific evidence supports this belief.

Some consumers claim that pangolin scales can improve kidney functions, treat palsy and skin diseases, and stimulate lactation, but here again scientific evidence is lacking.

They are also used in traditional African medicine.

Vietnam has passed laws banning the sale of pangolins but implementation appears to be weak. And while some pangolins are rescued, the country has limited capabilities when it comes to caring for them.

According to the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), more than a million pangolins were poached in the decade prior to 2014.

Over the last three years, high-profile seizures of record numbers of pangolin scales by customs officials indicate that smugglers, traffickers, and traders are still selling the scales in large quantities.

On April 3, customs officials in Singapore seized a shipment of more than 14 tons of pangolin scales in what experts described as the largest seizure of a single shipment of its kind ever recorded.

Citing officials, The Washington Post reported that the shipment, which originated in Nigeria, was worth about $39 million U.S. dollars

Some 30,000 pangolins were believed killed for the shipment, according to an official with the Pangolin Specialist Group, who was quoted by The New York Times.

An IUCN Species Survival Commission formed the Pangolin Specialist Group in 2012. It comprises 100 experts from 25 countries and is hosted by the Zoological Society of London.

In 2016, an international body in charge of regulating wildlife trading worldwide acted to ban pangolin poaching, trafficking, and sales.

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Some rangers were caught helping hunters catch or kill high-value animals, but those caught doing this were said to be severely dealt with. Pixabay

All 182 member nations belonging to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted in favor of the ban.

The IUCN maintains a Red List of threatened, vulnerable, and endangered species.

All eight species of pangolins, four in Asia and four in Africa, are included on the IUCN Red List, with their designations ranging from vulnerable to endangered.

Populations of all of the species are said by scientists to be rapidly decreasing.

The African connection

On Jan. 31 this year Ugandan authorities reported seizing 750 pieces of elephant tusks and thousands of pangolin scales being smuggled into Uganda from neighboring Sudan.

Officials from the Ugandan Revenue Authority said that the smuggled items were hidden inside pieces of timber carried by three big freight containers.

Two Vietnamese men suspected of belonging to a smuggling ring involved in the case were arrested, the officials said.

The Associated Press quoted officials as saying that the elephant tusks were likely collected in neighboring Congo.

In Africa, elephants are threatened by demand for ivory products in China and other countries, including Vietnam. Africa had 1.3 million elephants in the 1970s but has fewer than 500,000 today, the AP said.

China has officially banned the ivory trade, but some ivory products continue to reach the country from Vietnam and elsewhere.

According to the Hong Kong-based Asia Times, while Vietnam made the trade of ivory illegal in 1992, the country is still a “top market” for ivory goods. They are largely used for decorations and are also used in traditional medicine.

Pangolin trafficking is also banned worldwide under an international treaty, but smugglers are known to bring pangolin scales to Hong Kong and then on into China. In early 2018, reporters from the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that despite the international ban, Hong Kong shops were still selling pangolin scales, sometimes from behind stacks of boxes containing other goods.

The trade in pangolins shipped from the east-central African nation of Uganda is highly profitable. Smugglers can buy the pangolins at low prices in Uganda and sell them at high prices in China and Vietnam. Meanwhile, a market for them has also developed in Indonesia.

Before April’s record-breaking seizure of some 30,000 pangolins in Singapore, this year, customs officials made other sizable seizures in Malaysia and in Hong Kong in February. The Hong Kong haul included 8.3 tons of pangolin scales and 2.1 tons of ivory, in a shipment marked “frozen beef” from Nigeria, media reports said.

Why we should care about pangolins

First of all, pangolins, many of which are about the size of a house cat or small dog, are a threat to no one except to ants and termites, which they lap up with a long, sticky tongue.

They can fight off animal predators with their sharp claws and their scales, which act as a kind of armor when they curl themselves up into a ball.

But pangolins possess little defense against human predators, who can simply pick them up off the ground.

“They’re defenseless,” said Hongying Li, the China program coordinator with the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in New York which is dedicated to research and protecting people and animals from infectious diseases.

Li said that eating pangolin meat is “a way of showing off. It’s a way of saying I am very rich. I can afford pangolin meat.”

Li also said that pangolins are “very important to the environment, because they eat a lot of ants and termites…”

He described ants and termites as “a disaster for the forest.”

No celebrity status

But as Martin Fletcher of the Daily Telegraph in London explained in a recent article, pangolins “lack the celebrity status of elephants, rhinos, and tigers.”

That, he says, “helps explain why so few westerners even realize they exist.”

In reporting his story, Fletcher decided to check out zoos but found that not a single British zoo houses any of them. Leipzig is the only zoo in Europe that has one and is one of only six zoos in the world that houses them.

Pangolins are shy, nocturnal creatures and often inhabit forests where it is difficult to spot, photograph, or study them. In captivity, they usually fail to adapt well to alternative foods.

But some prominent figures in Britain have taken note of them.

In 2014, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, teamed up with the makers of the game “Angry Birds” to create an online contest aimed at helping the pangolin.

In 2015, the prince noted that “the humble pangolin…runs the risk of becoming extinct before most of us have ever heard of it.”

In an episode of the BBC program “Natural World,” David Attenborough said that the Sunda pangolin was one of the 10 species that he would like to save from extinction.

Attenborough recalled rescuing one of these pangolins from being eaten while he was working on a film early in his career.

He described it as “one of the most endearing animals I have ever met.”

The Sunda pangolin’s main predators are humans, tigers, and the clouded leopard.

The animal spends much of its life in trees and is classified as threatened.

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He described ants and termites as “a disaster for the forest.” Pixabay

‘Wildlife under siege’

The best recent journalism to appear in English on the subject of endangered wildlife in Vietnam was published on April 7 in The New York Times’ travel section of all places.

The author Stephen Nash travelled through a national park in Vietnam which is the home to many rare animals, including pangolins.

He concluded that “wildlife is under siege” in Vietnam and that national parks “are often no refuge.”

Nash learned that pangolins command $500 a pound for their meat and scales in folk-cure apothecaries in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Park rangers and others with whom he spoke at the Cat Tien National Park affirmed that the animal populations in the park were declining.

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Some rangers were caught helping hunters catch or kill high-value animals, but those caught doing this were said to be severely dealt with.

The rangers earn something like $200 a month, a relatively low salary, which makes poaching an attractive career option, says Nash. (RFA)

Next Story

Thousands of Students of Australia and Other Asia-Pacific Countries Kick Off Strike for Climate Action

Thousands of students took to the streets of Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries Friday

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Thousands of protesters gather in Sydney, Sept. 20, 2019, calling for action against climate change. Australia's acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack described climate rallies as "just a disruption" that should have been held on a weekend. VOA

Thousands of students took to the streets of Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries Friday to kick off a global strike demanding world leaders gathering for a U.N. Climate Action Summit adopt urgent measures to stop an environmental catastrophe.

“We didn’t light it, but we’re trying to fight it,” read one sign carried by a student in Sydney, as social media posts showed huge demonstrations around the country including outback towns like Alice Springs.

“The oceans are rising and so are we,” read another sign held by a protester wearing school uniform in Melbourne.

Similar protests, inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, are planned in some 150 countries Friday. The aim is for students and others from around the world to speak in one voice about the impending effects of climate change on the planet.

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FILE – Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, speaks in front of a crowd of people after sailing into New York harbor aboard the Malizia II, Aug. 28, 2019. VOA

“Soon the sun will rise on Friday the 20th of September 2019. Good luck Australia, The Philippines, Japan and all the Pacific Islands. You go first!” Thunberg posted Thursday on Instagram.

By early afternoon, the Sydney protesters were overflowing out of a 34-hectare (84-acre) open space in the city. Similar crowds were reported in Brisbane and other state capitals.

Danielle Porepilliasana, a Sydney high school student, had a blunt message for politicians like Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who told parliament  Thursday that students should stay in class.

“World leaders from everywhere are telling us that students need to be at school doing work,” she said, wearing anti-coal earrings. “I’d like to see them at their parliaments doing their jobs for once.”

Also Read- FDA Opens Criminal Probe into E-Cigarette-Related Lung Illnesses in United States

Solo start

Thunberg has galvanized young people around the world since she started protesting alone with a sign outside the Swedish parliament building in August 2018. Over the past year, young people in other communities have staged scattered strikes in solidarity with her Fridays for Future movement.

In conjunction with the U.N. summit this week, organizers on Friday will hold coordinated strikes around the world for a third time, with Thunberg spearheading a march and rally in New York, home of U.N. headquarters.

In a show of support, New York City education officials will excuse the absences of any of its 1.1 million public school students who want to participate.

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FILE – Youths demonstrate for climate change during a “Fridays for Future” school strike, in front of the Ecology Ministry in Paris, France, Feb. 15, 2019. VOA

Demonstrators will gather in Lower Manhattan at noon and march about a mile to Battery Park at the edge of the financial district for a rally featuring speeches and music.

Thunberg, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in March, sailed to New York from England aboard a zero-carbon-emissions vessel to partake in the U.N. summit.

It brings together world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels.

Effects being felt

Also Read- 3 Billion Fewer Birds in United States, Canada and Mexico than 1970

Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has already led to droughts and heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and floods, scientists say.

Carbon emissions climbed to a record high last year, despite a warning from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that output of the gases must be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilize the climate.

Organizers said the demonstrations would take different forms, but all aim to promote awareness of climate change and demand political action to curb contributing factors to climate change, namely carbon emissions.

Demonstrators in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, planned to dance on the beach in a celebratory pledge to protect their natural heritage. Protesters in Istanbul were heading to a public park for a climate festival with concerts and workshops scheduled throughout the day.

On Wednesday, Thunberg appeared before several committees of the U.S. Congress to testify about the next generation’s view on climate change. In lieu of testimony, she submitted a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that urged rapid, unprecedented changes in the way people live to keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees C by 2030.

“I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take action,” she said. (VOA)