Arxiu d'etiquetes: hunting

Nature in times of war

The actual world  is in turmoil. News related to terrorism, drug trafficking, coups d’état,  refugees crisis or the numerous wars still present flood our screens day after day. And, in a completely understandable bias, the focus is almost exclusively on the people and countries involved. But (and it’s something I ask every time I watch the news) what happens to nature in these regions punished by violence? In this entry we review the most important armed conflicts nowadays and their consequences for the nature surrounding them.

INTRODUCTION

Any human action has repercussions on natural life, and even more wars, intrinsically destructive. A series of damages on the wildlife are associated with them such as deforestation, soil degradation, pollution or hunting, among many others. The first time we really became aware of the great impact of the wars on nature was in the Vietnam War. The US army, in its fight against an invisible enemy, threw more than 75 million liters of herbicides into the jungles, in order to defoliate the trees to find their enemies. However, despite partially achieving its objective (we all know how that war ended) nature was seriously damaged. A study carried out in Vietnam in the mid-1980s found that there were only 24 birds and 5 mammals in an area where there were previously between 145 and 170 birds and between 30 and 55 mammals.

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A Huey helicopter from the US military overhangs the jungles of Vietnam while ‘bathing’ them with orange agent. Agent Orange was a potent herbicide and defoliant used by the United States during the war to make more visible enemies hidden in the jungle. A single plane could defoliate tens of hectares in a single flight. The US government spent $ 60 million a year on Agent Orange. Source: Zmescience.

Other wars, such as the Civil War in Rwanda, apart from causing more than 500,000 deads and displacing more than 2 million of people, left the nature of the country in a state of absolute crisis. In the Akagera National Park, one of the most emblematic environments in the country, deforestation wreaked havoc: 200,000 of the 300,000 hectares of forest were lost in just 3 years, as well as 90% of large mammals.

But what is happening today? How are the wars of today affecting the survival of nature? Here we review the most important current conflicts and their difficult coexistence with the wildlife of the region.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (1948-present)

Although the last war between Israel and Palestine began in 2005, violence between the two countries has been present since the creation of the state of Israel. Thousands of people have been dead for decades, and millions have been displaced against their will. And, of course, nature has not come out unscathed.

One of the most famous cases occurred in 2006. The Israeli army bombarded two oil tanks near a power station in Jieh, Lebanon (where a terrorist group called Hezbollah was emplaced) causing a spill of 10,0000 and 15,000 cubic meters of oil in the Mediterranean sea. This black tide spread along 90 km of the coast of Lebanon, carrying the death with it. In addition, this phenomenon severely affected the habitat of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) in one of the last well-preserved places that this species still had in the Mediterranean basis.

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The bombing of two oil tanks by the Israeli army left 80 km of the Lebanese coast as can be seen in the image. In 2014, the United Nations Assembly urged Israel to compensate Lebanon with $ 856.4 million for this environmental catastrophe. Source: hispantv.

However, in early 2016, images that would call even more international attention came to light: dozens of animals from the Gaza zoo appeared completely mummified after suffering a terrible agony and starving. It happened twice since the zoo opened in 2007, but the strongest famine took place in 2014, following a conflict between Israel and Hamas’s Palestinian forces. It is estimated that about 80 animals died because of famine, including crocodiles, tigers, baboons or porcupines. When rescue services were able to reach the zoo, only 15 animals remained alive, many of them with severe symptoms of malnutrition.

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The Gaza zoo became the World’s Worst Zoo due to the shocking images of mummified bodies as a result of the famine that caused the war. According to Abu Diab Oweida, the owner of the zoo, the bodies were mummified so that everyone could see that even the animals were affected by the war. Source: Dailymail.
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The continuous bombing in the Gaza Strip cause numerous casualties, such as those of the horses in the picture. Unfortunately, the end of the conflict is still so far. Source: helpinganimalsingaza.

Second Congo War (1998-2003)

This war, also known as the Great War of Africa or the African World War, has caused the death of more than 5 million people since then, which has given it the dubious honor of being the deadliest armed conflict since The Second World War. Although the war officially ended in 2003 and there is an elected government since 2006, the Democratic Republic of the Congo lives in a state of instability typical of a country at war.

The guerrillas use the country’s many natural resources to obtain money so they can continue the war. And ivory is the most precious commodity, the one that produces the most benefits. That is why African elephant populations (Loxodonta africana) have been reduced by 90% since the beginning of the conflicts. Something worse has occurred to the northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) a subspecies of the white rhinoceros. Its last specimens, 2 males and 2 females living in the Garamba National Park, are believed to have died between 2006 and 2008 at the hands of the guerrillas, causing the extinction of this subspecies.

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The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), with an estimated population of  only 700 individuals, lives almost exclusively in the Virunga Mountains, a territory shared by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. In the picture, a mountain gorilla killed by unknown causes in 2007. It is believed that the rangers were involved in his death. Source: The Guardian.

Bushmeat, or the food coming from wild animals, is another major problem stemming from the numerous military conflicts in the country. In the wake of extreme poverty, many villagers have been forced to hunt to survive. And the primates has been one of the most harmed groups. The populations of the great primates, once counted by millions, have been drastically reduced. It is believed that there are only 200,000 lowland gorillas, 100,000 chimpanzees and 10,000 bonobos in freedom.

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Bonobos (Pan paniscus) are our closest relatives, and one of the most threatened animals in the Congo. It is endemic to this country, but is being heavily hunted for food and, more recently, to serve as a delicacy to the Asian market. Specimens such as it appears in the image can easily be found in the markets of Kinshasa and Brazzaville. Source. National Geographic.

Syrian Civil War (2011-present)

Undoubtedly, the most famous war at the moment. This conflict has killed more than 500,000 people and has caused one of the most important humanitarian crises of our time: it is estimated that there are more than 10 million of refugees because of the war. Those who have remained in Syria, have been displaced from the interior to the coastal zone, becoming a great threat to the forests of the region. According to Aroub Almasri, a Syrian government environmentalist, most people need food, electricity and fuel to cook and warm up, which has lead to clear the area’s forests, mostly in protected areas. Apart from the severe impact of deforestation, there are also a large number of fires that have been spreading throughout the region in recent times. A particularly affected area is the Fronlok forest on the border with Turkey. In these mountains the degree of endemism is high, and many species are at a serious risk of disappearing from the area, especially a type of oak, Quercus cerris, native to the region and which would begin to be threatened.

Due to the fragmentation of the habitat, it is believed that an iconic species of the Mediterranean zone and classified as critically endangered by IUCN has become extinct in Syria. It is the bald ibis (Geronticus eremita), a bird of which only 500 individuals remain and is present only in three countries: Morocco, Turkey and Syria. In spite of Syria‘s enormous effort to maintain a stable population in its territory, the war wiped out the last individuals of this species in the region. Only one individual of the species remains, a female named Zenobia, who was seen for the last time in Palmyra before ISIS troops entered the city.

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It seems that the numerous efforts made by the Syrian government in the early years of the twenty-first century have been insufficient to save this iconic species from extinction. Formerly present in large parts of Europe (from Austria to the Iberian Peninsula) the bald ibis has the most important populations in Morocco, its last redoubt in the natural state. Source: New Scientist.

Second Libyan Civil War (2014-present)

After the first Libyan civil war, which ended with the fall of Colonel Gaddafi, the country entered into a spiral of violence sponsored by the numerous armed groups that control the country. The importation of meat from abroad has stopped, and the owners of sheep, goats and camels keep their animals as if they were gold because of shortages. Because of this, armed groups are heading to the south of the country, where anarchy prevails and there are a lot of wild animals to take advantage of.

One of the most harmed species has been the rhim gazelle (Gazella leptoceros), classified as threatened by IUCN and with its populations in decline. Ten years ago the population did not exceed several hundred individuals, and it is believed that today the situation is much worse.

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Rhim gazelle is native to North Africa, where there are less than 2,500 individuals. The militias use their meat to feed or sell it in the Libyan market, where it is scarce. Source: Creative Commons.

But the gazelles are not the only ones harmed by the banditry and impunity reigning in Libya. Large numbers of migratory birds, which have to cross the African country on their way to Europe, are slaughtered by hunters. In addition, the oases that they use to rest are being opened by the hunters, which causes that hundreds of cranes, ducks, herons and flamingos are annihilated without anyone can do anything.

In addition, the effect of the Libyan war on nature does not remain within its borders. In 2015, weapons from Libya were found near elephant corpses in Mali, a heavily threatened elephant subspecies. It is believed that the ivory of the Mali elephants is serving to finance the Libyan militias.

A slaughtered elephant is seen in Bambara-Maoude
Mali’s elephants are one of the only two populations of elephants living in the desert. The last air census (2007) revealed the presence of only 350 individuals in the country. In 2015, 80 elephant were hunted, so the forecasts are not at all flattering: scientists believe that the population will die out in 3 years. Source: Reuters.

The Colombian government against the FARC and other guerrillas (1964-2016)

Despite the peace agreement reached few months ago between the Colombian government and the FARC, both social and environmental wounds will take a long time to be closed. For a long time the militias have been financed largely from the money generated by illegal cocaine crops. Placed deep in the Colombian jungle, thousands of hectares of pristine forest have been cleared for the construction of laboratories and coca plantations. In addition, in an attempt to stop this type of illegal crops, the government fumigated extensive forest areas with glyphosate, a herbicide that, despite being considered harmless, caused the death of birds, small mammals and insects, what in turn left without sustenance the people who live on hunt. Another added problem is that illicit crops have spread to protected areas. Thus, according to a report by the National Parks of Colombia, FARC were present in 37 protected areas of the country, and 3791 hectares of coca plantations were also detected in there.

However, the illicit activity that most threatens Colombia’s nature is illegal mining, one of the most lucrative activities for armed groups. Not for less, since while 1 kg of coca is sold at about 4.3 million pesos, 1kg of gold is sold at 85 million pesos, about 20 times more. For this reason, large areas of jungle have been destroyed by backhoes to open gold (60%), coltan (25%), charcoal (10%) and tungsten (5%) mines. Deforestation resulting from illegal mining reaches unimaginable numbers: between 1990 and 2010, an average of 310,349 hectares of forest per year were deforested, that is, 6206.000 hectares in all that time, or what is the same, 5.4% of the Colombian surface.

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Mercury and cyanide, highly contaminating metals, are used for the extraction of gold. It is estimated that about 200 tons of mercury go to Colombian rivers each year. This has caused, at least, the contamination oh 90 rivers, affecting the local fauna and flora. Source: Semana.

Finally, FARC actions against oil extraction have caused serious oil spills in areas of high environmental value. This is the case, for example, of the 492-liter oil spill in Puerto Asis, Putumayo, in June 2015. The FARC intercepted a convoy containing tanks with oil and spilled them, affecting 9 wetlands and spreading oil along the Putumayo River.

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In 2013, the FARC’s systematic attacks against the oil industry accounted for 132 only in the province of Putumayo. Hydrocarbons contaminate the soil and remain there for years. In water, oil, due to its oxygen consumption, creates anoxic conditions that causes the death of fish. Source: elcolombiano.

War in Afghanistan (2001-2014)

Either the last war and the previous one had a strong impact on the region’s wildlife. It is estimated that between 1990 and 2007, more than one-third of Afghanistan’s forests were cleared, either by refugees to use wood for cooking, fuel or construction, or by logging industries, which cut down the forests of the region with impunity.

Nevertheless, the news are more optimistic than would be expected of a country plunged into war for decades. Between 2006 and 2009, the first censuses since the 1970s were carried out in the province of Nuritán, with the help of trap cameras, the study of faeces and the realization of transects. The results were encouraging: 18 black bears, 280 porcupines and many red foxes, gray wolves, golden jackals, wildcats, palm civets and rhesus macaques were observed, and even the elusive snow leopard (Panthera uncia), concretely 3 distinct individuals.

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Photo-trapping cameras captured images of the elusive snow leopard in the rugged Afghan mountains. With no doubt, they are encouraging news for its conservation. Source: James Nava.

However, there are still threats for Afghan wildlife. The large number of bombs thrown during the years made a dent in the abundance of migratory birds. Many birds died directly from the impact of the bombs or poisoned when they came into contact with contaminated water. Others, however, varied their rute due to the bombing and no longer cross the country. This is the case of the Siberian crane (Grus leucogeranus), a species critically endangered by IUCN that has not been seen in Afghanistan since 1999. In addition, due to the war and the incipient Afghan economy, hundreds of hunters Are forced to catch live birds for subsequent smuggling into rich Arab countries. This has led to the fact that, in some regions of Afghanistan, migratory bird watching has declined by 85% since the start of the war.

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According to the Afghanistan Environmental Protection director, every year around 5000 birds are hunted for contraband, especially in the regions of Syed Khel and Kohistan. Many of the Houwa bustards (Chlamydotes undulata) and different types of hawks are sent to rich Gulf countries to serve as pets. In the picture, Afghan hunters near their rudimentary cages. Source: focusingonwildlife.

Korean Conflict (1950-present)

The Korean Demilitarized Zone is the proof that even something as tragic as a war can bring positive consequences. In 1953, following the peace agreement by both countries, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a strip of land 4 km wide and 250 km long that separates both countries, was created. The area, which has a strong military presence of about 2 million soldiers, has remained virtually unchanged and sparsely populated since then.

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The Demilitarized Zone of Korea, or DMZ, separates both countries thanks to a buffer zone 4 km wide. In this place, the leaders of both countries usually hold the infrequent and tense meetings. Source: Creative Commons.

The area is characterized by a great topographic richness and high variety of ecosystems, which allows it to contain a great diversity. Some scientific expeditions have documented more than 1,100 species of plants, 80 species of fish, 50 of mammals and hundreds of birds. In addition, it is a frequent stop for many species of migratory birds that head towards Mongolia, the Philippines or Australia.

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The area has a great diversity of flora and fauna. Deer, bears, wild boars and large numbers of birds inhabit the territory. It is even believed that it could contain some individuals of the siberian tiger, habitual inhabitant of the zone before the Japanese occupation of Korea. Source: BBC.

Recently, thanks to improved relations between the two countries, the area can be visited for only about 43 euros. In addition, due to its exceptional conservation status and high diversity, some campaigns are under way to turn the area into a protected area. One of these campaigns, the DMZ Forum, proposes to declare the area as World Heritage Site and World Park for Peace, in order to be able to protect it from a possible urban development on the day that peace between the two countries is reached.

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The area has received numerous supports to convert it into a nature reserve in order to protect it from a possible future exploitation. Among the personalities who have supported the plan are the former US President Bill Clinton and the CNN founder Ted Turner. Source: BBC.

REFERENCES

DeWeerdt, Sarah (January 2008). “War and the Environment”. World Wide Watch. 21
King, Jessie (8 July 2006). “Vietnamese wildlife still paying a high price for chemical warfare”. The Independent.
Kanyamibwa S (1998). Impact of war on conservation: Rwandan environment and wildlife in agony. Biodiversity and Conservation, 7: 1399-1406.
Cover picture: Earth in transition.

Ricard-anglès

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The 5 most threatened species by traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine has boomed in recent years, thanks to increased purchasing power, especially Chinese Asian middle class. This ancient medicine is based on the concept of vital energy, that invades every corner of the body and organs, and can be acquired through ingested substances, as are parts of various animals. Despite numerous studies, there is no scientific evidence of its benefits to human health. In contrast, there is evidence of an alarming decline in populations of emblematic species such as tigers, rhinos or lions.

INTRODUCTION

3000 years ago emerged, within the Shang Dynasty, a type of medicine that would completely change the life and habits of the Asian people. The basis of traditional Chinese medicine have a strong philosophical component and focus on the concept of ‘Qi’ or vital energy. This energy flows inside the body through channels or meridians, which in turn are connected to organs and bodily functions. The ‘Qi’ regulates the spiritual, physical and emotional balance of the person, and can be altered when the Yin and Yang (negative and positive energy) get unbalanced. This imbalance and alteration of vital energy is what leads to all kinds of diseases.

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According to traditional Chinese medicine, there is not a specific disease, but sick people. Treatment focuses on the affected organ or organs and the whole body, in order to try to restore the balance between Yin,Yang and meridians. Source: Chinatoday.com.

Since ancient times, diseases have been fought with many remedies, many of them derived from animals. Almost any Asian species has been used for traditional medicine, such as cows, wasps, leeches, scorpions, antelopes, sea horses, dogs or snakes. Despite the zero scientific evidence of its benefits, its popularity has been increasing with the population explosion and the purchasing power of Asian countries, especially China and Vietnam. Many ‘new rich’ find in these products a way to distance themselves from other social classes and show off their new lifestyle. As a result, many species are in danger of extinction in the coming decades if nothing is done about it.

In this article we will have a look at the 5 most threatened species by Chinese medicine, and the actions that are being carried out to improve their situation.

THE 5 MOST THREATENED SPECIES BY CHINESE MEDICINE

Tiger (Panthera tigris)

The tiger is undoubtedly the most emblematic and admired animal by traditional Chinese medicine. Practically all its parts has been used, such as its nose, tail, eyes, whiskers, brain, blood and even penis. Each part has been associated with a particular cure. Eating your brain, for example, combat both laziness and pimples, while the eyes are used to treat malaria and epilepsy.

Unlike other animals used for traditional medicine, tiger parts are not only sold to Asian countries like China, Taiwan, Japan or South Korea, but also to occidental countries, even the United States and United Kingdom. In fact, in cities like London, Birmingham or Manchester you can find products that claim to contain tiger bone. The price of tiger bone is between 140 and 370 dollars per kg in the US, while a cup of tiger penis soup (that it is used to increase virility) reaches 320 dollars.

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Wine made of Siberian tiger bones. Wine tiger is one of the emerging threats for the species. This bottle costs about 200 dollars and is sold as a luxury product. Source: Takepart.com.

Although there are only  3,200 tigers in the wild (of the 100,000 existing a century ago), there are countries that contain tigers as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia who have not yet signed the CITES agreement, which means that hunting is still legal. In the airport of Hanoi, for example, it is still possible to buy bones, organs and tiger skins without any difficulty.Te

Despite the ban on trade in tiger bones in China in 1993, the business of the tiger is still a very important business in the country. In fact, as pointed out by the researcher and writer Judit Mills in an interview of Yale Environment 360, from that year the number of tiger farms increased rapidly, reaching, at present, the number of 6000 tigers in these places. Most of these farms are dedicated to the growing business of tiger wine, symbol of high status and wealth among the Chinese population. The tigers are fed like cattle until they are killed to extract their bones, which will be immersed in rice wine. The longer they remain in the broth, the higher the price of the bottles.

Just over a month ago, a scandal involving tigers and traditional medicine splattered the Kanchanaburi Tigers Temple in Thailand. In there, more than 40 dead tiger babies were found in freezers, allegedly in order to deal with them on the black market that involves this mythical species.

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Baby tigers in jars were found in the Temple of the Tigers, in Thailand. It is suspected that the Buddhist temple is behind a web of illegal trade in tiger parts. The temple has been closed and monks are being investigated. Source: El Mundo.

Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and sun bear (Helarctos malayanus)

Bear bile has been used in traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years. Yore, bile was extracted once the bear was dead, using its meat as well. However, since 1980 the popularity of this product grew, and a flourishing industry was settled and growing year after year. It is estimated that there are currently more than 12,000 bears in farms bile extraction in China and Vietnam.

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Bear bile from China is sold in Malaysia. In a recent research conducted by TRAFFIC, of the 365 traditional medicine shops present in Malaysia, almost half of them (175) were selling products containing bear bile. Source: TRAFFIC.

Thanks to its high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid, bear bile can help to treat liver ailments and bladder. However, the extraction of bile causes to bears an unimaginable damage, both physical and psychological. In most cases, bears are confined in cages whose size is like a phone booth, and are continuously sedated so they do not give problems. Poachers make them a hole in the gallbladder and let it drip in order to extract the bile. This heinous practice is still legal in China, although 87% of the population disagrees with this practice.

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In many cases the animals are born and grow in the same cage, to the extent that their bodies just outlined by the own cage bars. Many lose much of their teeth by gnawing the bars continuously to try to escape, or attempt suicide punching themselves in the stomach. In this sad picture we see a sun bear in an illegal farm in Malaysia. Source: Animalsasia.org.

White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)

If we look back, it might seem that the situation of the white rhino is excellent. This African species was on the brink of extinction in the early twentieth century, when there were only 100 individuals. Fortunately, thanks to numerous international efforts, the species recovered surprisingly and currently has a population of about 20,000. However, the situation of rhinos is critical again, because of the poachers kill more than a thousand of them every year, which has reignited the alarms for this species.

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A woman prepares tea rhino horn in a cafe in Vietnam. Rhino horn ingested in powder form and is very popular in Vietnam. Among other benefits, it is believed to cure cancer. Source: Marcianosmx.com.

The rhino (the Asian rhino in that time) has been hunted since the dawn of traditional medicine, as there are records of their hunting since 200 B.C. Horns, blood, skin and even urine have been used since ancient times as a remedy for various ailments such as nosebleeds, strokes, seizures and fever. Today, the main goal is his horn, which reaches exorbitant prices on the black market. A rhino horn can reach up to 46,000 euros per kilogram on the Asian black market, which has already been exceeded the price of gold. The business has prospered thanks to this great incentive, the ease of hunting these animals (they are slow, nearsighted and docile) and the lack of vigilance in the countries they live. The main destination for rhino horn is Vietnam, where the belief in their properties is stronger.

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South Africa is by far the country that has more white rhinos (around 90%) and the most affected by illegal hunting. In recent years, hunting has suffered an alarming increase. It surprises and scares simultaneously when comparing the only 13 deaths in 2007 with the nearly 1200 deaths occurred in 2015. Source: TRAFFIC.

Pangolin (family Manidae)

Probably, the hunt that has increased more in recent times is the pangolin hunting, especially in China and Vietnam, its main markes. They are hunted for their meat and scales, wich are used for traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy for all kinds of diseases: malaria, anziety,depression, asthma and even cancer. Of course, scientific investigations have found no evidence of health benefits, and it is very unlikey to occur, because their scales are made of keratin, the same material that forms our fingernails and hair, or rhino horns.

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Pangolin scales for sale in Mong La, a tourist city in Myanmar and one of the msin focus on illegal sale of animal parts. One kg of pangolin can be paid at 175 dollars on the black market. Source: TRAFFIC.

Much of the hunted pangolins come from Myanmar, a country that has become, unfortunately, a gateway for most hunted pangolins in Asia or Africa. According to TRAFFIC, in the period from 2010-2014 were seized, only in Myanmar, 4339 kg of pangolin scales and 518 dead bodies. In the Philippines, in April 2013, a fishing boat containing 10,000 kg of pangolin scales was seized, which amount of 20,000 to 25,000 pangolins. With a population in continuous decline, the situation is far from improving. It is no wonder: a hunter, which in many cases has enough to survive, can gain up to 1,000 euros for just a single pangolin.

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Pangolin scales can be prepared and consumed in many different ways, either fried, dried or served with vinegar or sauces. In addition, it is believed that his blood and embryos (as the photo) cure sexual impotence. Source: National Geographic.

Lion (Panthera leo)

Lion has been the latest to join this unfortunate list. It was once one of the most abundant larger cats on the planet, with an estimated population of more than 400,000 individuals in 1950. Nowadays, it is calculated a population of no more than 20,000 individuals, a fact that has placed them in the Red List species in the Vulnerable category.

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Lion bones placed in the sun to dry them. Once they are dry, they will be sent to Laos and Vietnam, where they will be pulverized. A skeleton as above can be cost 75,000 dollars. Source: LionAid.org.

Although the greatest threat for the lion is still habitat loss, the increase of protect measures for tigers in Asia and their low number has placed the lion as a new target for the mafias, as indicated in this 2015 Nature article. In 1995 it was documented for the first time the use of parts of lion in traditional medicine, when it was discovered several typically tiger products containing lion parts. In December 2009 the CITES agreement allowed the export of skeletons lion to Asia. It is estimated that from that date until the end of 2011 more than 1160 bodies of lions were exported, mostly to Laos and Vietnam. The main use of lion bones is to serve as a substitute of tiger bones as a sexual enhancers.

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It is very easy to find products made with bone lion online. Get prices and easy ways to buy online did not cost me more than two minutes. These products, in particular, promise to lengthen the penis and improve sexual potency. Source: Male-sexenhancement.

CURRENT STATUS OF LAWS AND ACTIONS AIMED TO PROTECT ILLEGAL HUNTING OF THESE SPECIES

  • Tiger: Many Asian nations such as China, Nepal, Japan, South Korea and Thailand have pledged to enact laws that prohibit trade of tiger products, preserving their habitat and form a regional network to stop the tigers trade. Hong Kong, which accounts for almost half of exports of tiger parts, has intensified controls, while Taiwan, thanks to a recent trade control law, conducted numerous seizures, arrests and extensive searches for illegal tiger parts.
  • Asian black bear and sun bear: By mid-2015 it was known that an important pharmaceutical Chinese was working on an alternative synthetic product for bear bile. This product could finally end up with the bear bile farms. However, it is still necessary the total abolition of this practice in China.
  • Rhinos: There is a strong debate about legalizing rhino horn trade in South Africa. Some NGOs believe that this would lead to a fall in prices on the black market, while others argue it would raise the demand and mafias would still control the market. TRAFFIC along with Save the Rhino International launched an awareness campaign in Vietnam to persuade consumers of rhinoceros horn to reject its use. In addition, TRAFFIC got the commitment from the Association of Traditional Medicine of Vietnam to promote the reduction of demand of rhino horns.
  • Pangolin: Trade with pangolins and parts is protected by law in Myanmar, the most affected country by illegal trade. In addition, Asian pangolins are included in Appendix II of CITES, which means that international trade is prohibited. China is increasing control of smuggling pangolin, and has already imposed tough penalties to pangolin traffickers.
  • Lions: They are listed in Appendix II of CITES, which means that trading of its parts is strictly controlled. Farms created for lion hunters are the main supply of bones for Chinese medicine, that means that, for now, this phenomenon is having little impact on wild populations.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ricard-anglès

Madagascar: a paradise in danger

The country is suffering a great social, political and ecological crisis which is threatening the survival of much of its biodiversity, unique in the world. Selective logging of Madagascar rosewood is causing a biological crisis unprecedented in the country. Lemurs, one of the most affected groups, are treading on thin ice.

INTRODUCTION

When the French botanist Jean-Henri Humbert set foot on the massif of Marojejy for the first time, in 1948, he was so astonished of what he saw that 7 years later he published Une merveille de la nature à Madagascar, a book which exalted the incredible biodiversity and pristine forests present in the region1. The fact is that Marojejy is possibly the best example of the rich and varied fauna and flora that Madagascar holds and, hence, the best indicator to take notice when the island begins to show signs of collapse. Unfortunately, both the region and the whole of Madagascar live days of uncertainty, and the fear of the disappearance of this treasure is becoming more real day after day.

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A silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus) in Marojejy (Photo: Simponafotsy, Creative Commons).
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The fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is the largest carnivore in Madagascar, and endemic to the island (Photo: Becker1999).

Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, has an area of just over the Iberian Peninsula and contains a unique biological wealth. Despite its size and the relative proximity to the African continent, it has remained isolated from other continents since 80 million years ago, causing the local flora and wildlife have evolved independently from the rest. As a result, more than 90% of Madagascar’s species are considered unique in the world2. A 90% of reptiles3, 60% of birds4 and 80% of the island flora5 are endemic, as well as some unique lineages of mammals such as lemurs and fossas. However, all are at imminent risk of extinction due to the events experienced in the country in the recent years.

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Almost 80% of the original forest has already disappeared. A 90% of Madagascar’s endemic species live on the forest (Image: EOI).

CAUSES OF THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS IN THE COUNTRY

Deforestation has been present on the island since its colonization by humans, approximately 2000 years ago. However, in recent years, the delicate political situation in the country has led to their forests to their limits. With an unprecedented population growth, an extreme poverty (one of the highest in the world 6, 7) and a pressing political crisis, the nature of the island is helpless and besieged by multiple fronts. In addition to the traditional system of slash and burn deforestation, which allows local people to open forests to cultivate, it has appeared an unexpected player led by international companies. Selective logging of species of the genus Dalbergia (rosewood), rare in the forests and precious in the developed world due to its characteristic color and the strength of its wood, has become the main threat for the biodiversity of the island. It must be added, to the direct impact that involves the extraction of specific species of forest, resulting threats that can be even more damaging for the biodiversity, such as poaching, opening roads, habitat alteration, introduction of invasive species or intimidation of local populations by criminal organizations that manage the illegal exploitation8.

loads-rosewood-Toamasina-009
Rosewood illegal shipment in the Toamasina’s port, Madagascar (Photo: The Guardian).

Selective logging, present and endemic for decades, took a breather in 2000, thanks to its ban in National Parks. However, due to a deep political crisis occurred in 2009, which ended with a coup d’etat, the situation got out of hand, and criminal organizations took control, entering with impunity in the National Parks of the country9. Many of these National Parks are literally being swept away and looted, and they are nothing more than a mirage of what they were once. Despite the restoration of democracy in 201310 and the promises of the elected president to end the “plague” that selective logging of rosewood was causing to the country11, nothing is being done to fight against poaching.

Masoala-Logging-Camp_Toby-Smith-photo
Masoala logging camp, storing timber from Masoala National Park (Photo by Toby Smith, National Geographic).

WHICH COUNTRIES ARE BEHIND POACHING?

China is by far, the major importer of illegal timber from Madagascar. The main reasons are the growth of its middle class, which demands new furniture in line with their new standard of living, and the facilities granted by China due to its lax legislation on illegal timber12. A considerable part of this wood is used to make furniture in the style of the Ming Dynasty, which can be sold for $ 20,000. As there is no control on the illegal timber entering to the country, it is impossible to trace their origin. That’s why, in many cases, furniture and musical instruments manufactured in Europe or North America have been made with some or all with illegal timber13.

1201cmg2
French transport company (CMA CMG Delmas) loading illegal timber in Madagascar (Photo: Mongabay).
Rosewood-Vase-Shop_Erik-Patel-photo
Factory processing rosewood timber (Photo by Erik Patel, National Geographic).

BIODIVERSITY IN DANGER

Due to the opening of roads to remove rosewood timber, lemurs and other native species have become the target of poachers. At the beginning of the political crisis of 2009, a huge amount of lemurs and other wildlife were hunted to feed the thousands of loggers who often live in the forest while carrying out the logging. However, later, a luxury market which involved lemurs emerged, supplying restaurants with its meal in the larger cities and selling them as a delicacy.

Hunted_Silky_Sifakas
Silky sifakas and white head lemurs (Eulemur albifrons) hunted to be sold as food (Photo: Simponafotsy, Creative Commons).
Sin título
Silky sifakas and white head lemurs (Eulemur albifrons) hunted to be sold as food (Photo: Marojejy Website).
0820lemur
A red-ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra), critically endangered, lies dead victim of poaching (Photo: Mongabay).

Although the amount of death lemurs at the hands of poachers is unknown, there are many species that are suffering the impact, many of them in serious danger of extinction like the indri lemur -the largest lemur alive-, the Tattersall’s sifaka or the silky sifaka. The latter, has just a population estimated of 300 individuals. The situation of lemurs is so dramatic that a study of 2012 warned that 90% of the 103 species of lemurs should be on the Red List14. In addition, 23 of them should be qualified as Critically Endangered, the highest threat level.

Indri_indri_001
An indri (Indri indri). This specie is Critically Endangered (Photo: Erik Pattel).
Propithecus_tattersalli_001
A Tattersall’s sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli). This specie is Critically Endangered (Photo: Jeff Gibbs).

During this time it has also been an increase of trade of wild animals to serve as exotic pets, mainly affecting chameleons and turtles15, but has also been intensified the smuggling of lemurs16. In fact, a study of 2015 estimated that the number of lemurs captured in freedom for the exotic pet market could reach the creepy number of 28,000 in the last 3 years17.

pets-11
A ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) in a pet cage. The smuggling to supply the exotic pet market is decimating its population (Photo: Importance of lemurs).

IS THERE ANY LONG TERM SOLUTION?

There is always a way to make things get better. Here there is some of them:

  • Avoid selective logging of rosewood should be the number one priority to reduce the collateral damage it generates. Since 2011 the Malagasy species of the genus Dalbergia belong to CITES Appendix 3, granting them a greater degree of protection and regulating their trade. However, the controls remain inefficient and wood is coming from Madagascar towards the ports of China. In 2013, CITES urged China to increase controls in ports, but nothing was done about it. As indicated in this 2015 article of The guardian18, illegal timber from Madagascar continues entering in large amounts, because Chinese law allows importing timber without requiring export permits.
  • Effective monitoring forest by independent observers could yield results. In fact, this system has already been implemented in countries such as Cambodia and Cameroon, achieving good results19.
  • DNA fingerprinting is another method that it has recently been used on confiscated ivory to determine which populations of African elephants are being hunted. DNA testing has already been applied recently to track limber in other countries20.
  • Finally, it is necessary that each and every one of us avoid purchasing exotic pets from Madagascar if there is no legal certification that tells us we are not damaging them.

With all these solutions, an increase of public awareness and a greater international responsability regarding environmental problems, it may still has a glimmer of hope for wildlife in Madagascar.

REFERENCES

  1. http://www.marojejy.com/Intro_e.htm
  2. Hobbes & Dolan (2008), p. 517
  3. Okajima, Yasuhisa; Kumazawa, Yoshinori (15 July 2009). “Mitogenomic perspectives into iguanid phylogeny and biogeography: Gondwanan vicariance for the origin of Madagascan oplurines”.Gene(Elsevier441 (1–2): 28–35. doi:1016/j.gene.2008.06.011.PMID 18598742.
  4. Conservation International (2007).“Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands”Biodiversity Hotspots. Conservation International. Archived from the original on 24 August 2011. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  5. Callmander, Martin; et. al (2011). “The endemic and non-endemic vascular flora of Madagascar updated”. Plant Ecology and Evolution144 (2): 121–125. doi:5091/plecevo.2011.513. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2012. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  6. http://www.wildmadagascar.org/overview/FAQs/why_is_Madagascar_poor.html
  7. http://allafrica.com/stories/201510070931.html
  8. http://www.marojejy.com/Breves_e.htm
  9. http://news.mongabay.com/2009/08/lessons-from-the-crisis-in-madagascar-an-interview-with-erik-patel/
  10. http://newafricanmagazine.com/madagascar-a-new-political-crisis/
  11. http://news.mongabay.com/2015/09/activist-arrested-while-illegal-loggers-chop-away-at-madagascars-forests/
  12. http://news.mongabay.com/2009/12/major-international-banks-shipping-companies-and-consumers-play-key-role-in-madagascars-logging-crisis/
  13. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100527141957.htm
  14. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-18825901
  15. http://www.ecologiablog.com/post/4016/malasia-se-incauta-de-300-tortugas-en-peligro-de-extincion-procedentes-de-madagascar
  16. http://news.mongabay.com/2009/03/conservation-groups-condemn-open-and-organized-plundering-of-madagascars-natural-resources/
  17. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=AC9F12B7B37BD27ED8538264F7A0B46B.journals?aid=10245472&fileId=S003060531400074X
  18. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/16/rosewood-madagascar-china-illegal-rainforest
  19. http://www.trocaire.org/sites/trocaire/files/resources/policy/2006-forest-monitoring.pdf
  20. http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2010/05/20/madagascar_logging_crisis/
  21. Imagen de portada: Alexis Dittberner, n0mad.mu project.

Ricard-anglès

Dogs made us more sapiens

Look at the dog resting at your side as you read this article or the Yorkshire Terrier that you‘ve seen in the street. French Bulldog, Pug, Chihuahua, West Highland, Golden Retriever, Pinscher… sometimes it’s hard to think that the ancestor of all these races is the wolf. It is known that the variety of breeds of current dogs is due to artificial selection by humans, but the debate is still alive when trying to answer questions about where, when, how and why it occurred domestication of wolves. Have dogs influenced our evolution as a species? Why do we have such a close relationship with them?

HIPOTHESES ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF THE DOG

Currently it is known that the ancestor of the dog is the wolf (Canis lupus), probably of some extinct species. The dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is in fact one of the two domestic subspecies of the wolf; the other is the Australian dingo (Canis lupus dingo) although it is considered wild nowadays.

canis lupus lupus, lobo europeo, eurasian wolf
Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus). Photo by Bernard Landgraf.

The first hypotheses that attempt to explain the origin of the dog, were based on the idea that our ancestors caught wolf cubs and raised them as pets. But since domestication is a slow and long process, this belief is now ruled out. What tell us the most recent researchs?

  • A research in 2002 argued for an Asian origin (China today) 15,000 years ago, based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA from more than 600 dogs.
  • Another researh in 2010  placed the origin of the dog about 12,000 years ago in the Middle East, based on fossils.
  • In 2013, a mitochondrial DNA analysis of prehistoric canids, modern dogs and wolves concluded that domestication occurred between 18,800-32,100 years ago in Europe, much earlier than previously thought. The dog would be then the first living being domesticated by humans, since its origin predates agriculture. This would cast serious doubts in the same year’s rechearch telling that some wolves were able to metabolize starch, and therefore the cereals of early farmers, which favored (among other things) the rapprochement between wolves and humans.
Cánido de Razboinichya, fósil de 33.000 años de antigüedad que persenta rasgos de domesticación. Foto tomada de Plos One.
The Razboinichya canid, a 33.000 years old fossil with evidence of domestication. Photo taken of Plos One.

Agriculture and ranching surely influenced the evolution of the dog, but the contact between humans and wolves was when we were hunters and gatherers, before the domestication of animals more profitable (cows, sheep ). But how did it happen?

THE WOLF WAS DOMESTICATED ITSELF

The domestication of the wolf is unique because it is the only large carnivore in which we have succeeded. As reported by Science in April 2015, most scientists believe that were the wolves who approached human settlements voluntarily. Those who were less timid, more easily obtained food from the remains of dead animals left by our ancestors. Over time, these wolves survived longer and each generation was slightly different to previous, less and less fearful of humans. Humans would choose the most docile up to live with them. Wolves’ social skills and cooperation with its kind were maybe features that helped to cooperation with humans.

Entierro de una mujer y un perro del Neolítico, en Ripoli (Italia). Museo Nacional de Antigüedades de Chieti. (Créditos)
Neolithic burial of a woman and a dog, Ripoli (Italia). National Museum of Antiques of Chieti. (Credits)

Over thousands of years the relationship between humans and dogs has been coevolution (one has influenced the evolution of the other and vice versa), so much to create bonds with just a look, something  that we might think that is a exclusive hominid feature. When you look into the eyes of your dog the same hormone is released in both (oxytocin), the same hormone that is released when a mother looks at her son. If you also have the feeling that your dog understands you when you look at it, you smile at it, you talk to it … apparently you’re not entirely wrong.

CONSEQUENCES OF LIVING TOGETHER WITH DOGS IN HOMO SAPIENS

Althought your dog is just a pet and/or part of your family, they are now also used for almost the same tasks as those already profited early modern Homo sapiens:

  • Help for hunting: dogs could track the dam because they have a better smell, pursue and harass it until we killed it if it was too big for them. In addition, it is possible that humans communicated with dogs with his eyes, making a quieter hunting.
  • Search for buried or hidden food.
  • Transporting objects: fossils indicate that the first dogs carried objects in its backs and pulled carts.
  • Monitoring and protection against other predators, through better night vision and hearing.
  • Use as alternative food if hunting was scarce.
  • After the appearance of ranching, to control livestock.

The dog in turn, also made a profit from its union with H. sapiens, especially in the way of food easy to get.

Tassili dogs cave painting
Cave paintinf inTassili (Argelia) showing a hunting scene with dogs

An important consequence of the domestication of the wolf is that it was the starting point of the domestication of other animals. Our ancestors understood the advantages that supposed to have domesticated animals to their advantage, so the ranching revolution started about 10,000 years ago.

Furthermore, Pat Shipman, antrophologist, has published recently a paper and a book where explains the advantage that H. sapiens with dogs would have had against H. neanderthalensis, even contributing to the extinction of this species. Apparently the advantages set forth above associated with dogs, not only gave the first modern sapiens advantage to compete with other carnivores for food, scarce in full glaciation. Also they had an advantage over the Neanderthals, which had only their own means to feed. Not only disappeared with our arrival the Neanderthal population in Europe, so did the mammoths, European lions and buffalos.

Recreaciópn de un campamento neandertal. American Museum of Natural History. Foto de Mireia Querol
Recreation of a neanderthal camp. American Museum of Natural History. Photo by Mireia Querol

The causes of extinction of the species most similar to ours, the Neanderthals, remain a mystery. The reasons are probably multiple but rarely we ask ourselves that “man’s best friend” has contributed to this. Perhaps thanks to them you’re reading this article and I’m writing it, perhaps we are here as a species thanks to dogs.

REFERENCES

MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

Bearded vulture: conservation of a unique bird

Last month a bearded vulture was born for the first time in Spain of parents bred in captivity and reintroduced into the wild. The bearded vulture is the only bird in the world that feeds almost exclusively on bones. Like the Iberian lynx, it is one of the emblematic animals of the Iberian Peninsula and it is endangered, so it is subject to various conservation and reintroduction programs. In this article, we encourage you to find out more about the bearded vulture and the spanish conservation projects.

DESCRIPTION

The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is a diurnal bird of prey popularly included in what is called vultures, scavenger and ghoul birds (they feed on dead animals). However, the bearded vulture is quite different from other vultures:

Quebrantahuesos (Gypaetus barbatus) adulto. )Foto de Jose Luis Ojeda)
Adult bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus). (Photo by Jose Luis Ojeda)

 

  • It is so highly specialized that 85% of their diet are bones (osteophague) of dead mammals such as wild ungulates (chamois) and domestic cattle (goats, sheep). It can swallow bones up to 25 cm, and if they are too large catches them, rises them to 20-40 m and crashes bones against the rocks into smaller pieces that can swallowIt also uses the same technique to break tortoise shells.
  • It is very large, with a wingspan up to 2.8 meters and a weitgh up to 7 kg.
  • In general it isn’t noisy: it just whistles if it is excited or during the mating season.
  • It hasn’t the typical plucked vulture head. Vultures have a few or no feathers on their heads to maintain an optimum hygiene after putting their head in dead animals. Due to its peculiar diet, the bearded vulture has more feathers on head and neck, with its characteristic beard” below the peak.
  • The plumage is the same for both sexes but changes with age. The typical reddish and yellowish adults plumage is due to their habit of bathing in mud rich in iron oxides, otherwise they will had a white breast.
Fases del plomatge del trencalòs, segons Adam i Llopis (2003). (Imatge de © X. Parellada.)
Plumage phases of the bearded vulture, Adam and Llopis (2003). (Image by © X. Parellada.)

In this video (5 minutes, catalan) you can see bearded vultures in flight, breaking bones, engulfing them, raising a chick in the nest and bathing in mud.

REPRODUCTION

Bearded vultures nests on ledges and natural rock caves in the mountainous and rugged areas where they live. They have stable partner for life from age 7 and the reproductive cycle has different stages:

  • Pre-laying (September to November): nest building (covering it with branches, wool, feathers, bones ), defense of territory and sexual activity.
  • Incubation (December-February): they lay one or two eggs with a time difference of 6 days. Both sexes participate in the incubation for 53 days.
  • Nurturing (March-August): the largest chick kills his brother (fraticidal violence) to ensure survival. Parents provide food and when the chick leaves the nest (June-July), learn from them to find and prepare food until their emancipation.
  • Emancipation (January): displacement (thousands of kilometers) and dating back to the land where it was born to breed (philopatric instinct).
Seguimiento de nidos naturales mediante cámaras. (Foto: FCQ)
Tracking of natural nests with cameras. (Photo: Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture)

DISTRIBUTION

Subspecies Gypaetus barbatus meridonalis is distributed by the South and East Africa, while Gypaetus barbatus barbatus by North Africa and parts of Eurasia (see map).

In the Iberian Peninsula is found naturally only in the Pyrenees (Catalonia, Aragon and Navarra). Spain is the European country with more breeding couples registered (about 130, 2014 data).

gypaetus barbatus, quebrantahuesos, trencalòs, berded vulture distribution, distribución
Bearded vulture distribution. In red, areas in which has been reintroduced . (Image by Mario, Wikimedia).

THREATS

Bearded vulture populations are declining. It is ranked globally asnear threatened” in the IUCN Red List and “endangered” in the Spanish Catalogue of Endangered Species. Current threats they face are:

  • Death by poisoning (illegal baits, poisoned animal consumption, consumption of remains of lead hunting ammunition plumbism).
  • Death by electrocution or collisions with power lines and wind turbines of wind farms.
  • Poaching
  • Habitat loss and decreasing of reproductive efficiency because of the humanization of the medium (urbanisation, adventure sports )
  • Reduction of food (cattle in stables, obligation to bury the corpses )
Quebrantahuesos muerto por envenenamiento. (Foto: DARPAMN)
Bearded vulture dead by poisoning. (Photo: DARPAMN)

CONSERVATION IN SPAIN

Due to the limited distribution of populations, their low number and difficulty to colonize new territories, in 2014 thirteen autonomous communities signed a protocol for the recovery of vultures in Spain. The most prominent action of this protocol is to strengthen the National Strategy for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture in Spain (started in 2000) and the Programme Captive Breeding (2001), with actions such as the revaluation of rural areas, supplementary feeding and support for traditional farming practices. This strategy also involves the reintroduction in historic areas where the bearded vulture has been extinguished:

WHAT IS HACKING?

Hacking or rural upbringing is a technique that involves the release of captive-bred animals in an area that the bird assimilates as its birthplace. If successful, the bearded vulture returns to settle and breed. This technique did not has a conservationist origin, since it was developed by falconers in the Medieval Age. Falconry (hunting with birds of prey) are also currently used for wildlife control at airports or cities.

In falconry hacking consists in lefting in an elevated cage chicks that can feed by themselves. Falconer feeds them without being seen. After a few days they open the cage, using it as a basis for learning to fly. They are still feeding them until they learn to hunt by themselves and leave the cage. The young ones connect the cage as its birthplace so it will always return.

Alimentación de un pollo con un señuelo para evitar el contacto humano. Foto: Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos
Feeding a chick with a decoy to avoid human contact and make its life possible in the wild. (Photo: Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture)

The center managed by the Gypaetus Foundation is based on the natural breeding, with minimal human intervention. Parents raise and feed their young from the second week of hatching. To monitor the nests a video surveillance system is used.

Since 2006, 31 bearded vultures have been released from captive breeding and each one is tracked by GPS transmitters. Currently 15 individuals are still sending signals (9 were killed and 7 stopped working). As said in the introduction, the good news is that last month was born the first chick result of released individuals (Tono and Blimunda) by hacking technique.

For more information, check out this documentary (in spanish) about the bearded vulture and its conservation (El bosque protector. Fauna amenazada, El Quebrantahuesos, 29 minutes).

REFERENCES

MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

Pangolin: poaching is condemning it to extinction

Neither the tiger or elephant or rhino: the most hunted mammals by humans are pangolins, to the point of critically threaten their survival as a species. Discover the only mammal with scales, its current condition and what can we do to prevent the extinction of all species of pangolin in the world.

WHAT IS A PANGOLIN?

manis tricuspis, pangolin, árbol, tree, trepando
Tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis). (Photo by Bart Wursten).

The name pangolin (also known as scaly anteater or trenggiling) includes 8 different species distributed by a variety of habitats (tropical rainforests, dry forests, savanna areas, cultivated fields…) in Africa and Asia. They measure between 90 cm and 1.65 m. They are the only family in the order Pholidota: although physically similar, armadillos, sloths and anteaters are not its relatives (order Xenarthra). Most are nocturnal, solitary and shy, so there are still many questions about their biology and behavior in the wild (they don’t usually survive captivity).

MORPHOLOGY

Pangolins are the only mammals with scales: they are made of keratin (like our nails) and give them a look like a pineapple or artichoke. Scales are very sharp and they can move them voluntarily. If pangolins feel threatened hiss and puff, curl into a ball leaving the scales exposed and secrete pestilential acids to ward off predators (tigers, lions, panthers and humans).

leon, leona, pangolin, bola, lion, defensa
An impenetrable defense even to a lioness. (Photo by Holly Cheese)

The claws allow them both climb as digging: terrestrial pangolins hide and breed in underground galleries and arboreal pangolins do the same in hollows on trees. The tail of the tree pangolin is prehensile to attach to the branches. In addition, pangolins are excellent swimmers.
They are mainly bipedal animals: forepaws are so large that force them to walk on its hind legs, with a maximum speed of 5 km/h. Watch a pangolin walking and feeding:

NUTRITION

Pangolin has no teeth and is unable to chew. It feeds on ants and termites, which locates with its powerful sense of smell (the view is underdeveloped) and catch them with its sticky and long tongue (may be longer than the body itself, up to 40 cm). The stones swallowed involuntarily and corneal structures of their stomach help them to crush the exoskeletons of insects. With its powerful claws destroy their nests to access them and avoid their attack plugging his ears and nostrils, besides having an armored eyelid. It is estimated that a pangolin can consume about 70 million insects per year, which makes them important regulators of the population of ants and termites.

lengua, pangolin, tongue
The tongue of the pangolin. (Photo by Wim Vorster).

REPRODUCTION

Pangolins can reproduce at any time of the year. After pregnancy (two to five months, depending on species) only one young is born (African species) or up to three (Asian species).

pangolin, hembra, female, mamas, breast, pecho, tetas
Female pangolin. (Photo by Scott Hurd)

The pangolin is born with soft scales, which begin to harden after two days. When after a month come out of the burrow, they travel on the tail of her mother and become independent at 3-4 months. Their lifespan is unknown, although in captivity an individual lived until 20 years old.

pangolin, baby, cría, zoo bali
Female with her baby in the tail. Bali zoo. (Photo by Firdia Lisnawati)

THREATS AND CONSERVATION

In addition to habitat destruction, the main threat that pangolins face is direct hunting for human consumption. Although there are international laws to protect them, it is estimated that about 100 000 pangolins are hunted annuallyGiven the defense strategy of this animal, poachers only have to catch them of the ground. Like other species, like sharks, the food market and traditional medicine are the main causes of directing the pangolin towards extinction.

pangolin, jaulas, tráfico ilega, illegal trade, bushmeat
Illegal trade in pangolin. (Photo by Soggydan Benenovitch).

WHY PANGOLINS ARE POACHED?

  • Bushmeat is considered a delicacy and an indicator of high social status in Vietnam and China. The pangolin fetus soup is sold as an elixir to increase virility and improve breast milk production. The price of bushmeat on the black market can reach $ 300 per kilo. The price of an individual can reach $ 1,000.
sopa, feto, soup, pangolin, feto, fetus
Pangolin fetus soup. (Photo by TRAFFIC).
  • Blood is sold as a tonic to improve health and as an aphrodisiac.
  • Scales can reach $ 3000 per kilo and are used for almost anything: to cure from acne to cancer. This belief is curious, considering that the scales have the same structure as our fingernails.
pangolín, china, medicina, medicine, tradicional, cura para el cáncer
Products of traditional Chinese medicine made of pangolin. (Photo by TRAFFIC).

All these purported medicinal and magical effects have no scientific basis, making yet more nonsense pangolin smuggling.

CONSERVATION

The population trend of all species of pangolin is declining in some cases to an alarming extent. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species classifies them as it follows:

RED LIS CATEGORIES IUCN
IUCN Red List categories. (Image from iucn.org)

Because of their status, IUCN restored in 2012 a group of specialists within the Species Survival Commission (SSC) dedicated to pangolins (Pangolin Specialist Group -PangolinSG-). Its main objective are do research to increase knowledge of pangolins, the threats they face and how they can be mitigated to facilitate preservation.

The conservation projects that are being carried out include campaigns to reduce the demand of bushmeat and pangolin scales and the tightening of laws. Still, the total ignorance of populations’ state and low survival in captivity for breeding makes it difficult to design strategies for their conservation.

WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR PANGOLIN?

  • Reject any product derived from this animal, either bushmeat, scales or “miracle” products for the cure of diseases. Read the labels of any traditional remedies, especially if they are from the Asian market, and recall that its hypothetical benefits have no scientific basis, so that you can rethink their use.
  • Share information. If you own new data on pangolins, photos or videos contact with PangolinSG to cooperate with the investigation. Talk about them in your immediate environment to raise awareness and publicize this fantastic single animal.
  • Do a PhD about pangolins. Lot of research on these species is still needed, so if you are a student and you are planning to do a PhD, you can collaborate with PangolinSG with your future research.
  • Become a PangolinSG volunteer. Get involved in the development and implementation of projects and conservation programs.
  • Make a financial donation so PangolinSG can continue its work.

In conclusion, more scientific research, a change of mind and protection policies are needed to prevent the pangolin become an example of extinct species at the hands of ours, as it is about to happen to white rhino.

REFERENCES

MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY