Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: ground pangolin

Nominated by: David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Why do you love it?

Pangolins are the MOST trafficked mammals on the planet but hardly anyone knows about them. Although they look reptilian they are mammals and extraordinary ones at that. They eat mainly ants and termites which they detect by scent and can eat up to a staggering 23,000 insects a day!

They use their strong front claws to dig into nests and mounds and use their extremely long, sticky tongues (they can be as long as the pangolin itself) to get the insects. The tongue is attached way back inside the body between the pelvis and the last set of ribs. When not in use the tongue rests in a special pouch inside the pangolin’s throat. A special muscle closes their nostrils and ears to stop the insects attacking them. Stranger still, pangolins don’t have teeth but keratin spikes in their stomachs work with small stones or sand they have swallowed to grind the food up. Being such prolific eaters means that pangolins are an important form of pest control, often eating insects that negatively impact on crop production.

Covered in tough scales they look a bit like pine cones and roll into a protective ball when threatened. They can also use the erect scales on their tails to lash out at predators – they also hiss, puff and expel a foul scent to defend themselves.

They have one baby a year which is called a ‘pangopup’.

What are the threats to the ground pangolin?

Their main predators are leopards, hyenas, lions and humans. Over a million pangolins are believed to have been illegally captured and sold in the last decade alone. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in some Asian countries; some also believe that their scales can be used to cure a range of illnesses. They are also vulnerable to loss of habitat due to an increase in agriculture. In Africa they are eaten as bushmeat0 and used for traditional African medicine.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that pangolin scales (made of keratin) have any medicinal benefit. Due to declining numbers in Asia, where they have suffered a 90% decrease over the last 20 years, attention has now turned to African pangolins to supply illegal markets putting our ground pangolin in grave danger.

What are you doing to save it? In 2016 the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) established a new pangolin protection programme in Zambia where there has been a dramatic increase in the number of pangolins confiscated from illegal traders.

The programme supports local awareness campaigns and funds wildlife crime prevention as well as supporting a specialist rehabilitation unit to help return seized animals back to the wild.

Find out more about DSWF’s pangolin programme.



Mar 26

A man has been arrested for attempting to smuggle over 10% of one of the world’s most endangered tortoise populations into Thailand just a day after the conclusion of a CITES meeting where delegates resolved to clamp down on illegal wildlife trade.

Ploughshare tortoise

The Critically Endangered ploughshare tortoise is threatened largely by habitat loss.

Two wildlife smugglers have been arrested at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, for attempting to bring 54 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) and 21 radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) illegally into the country. Both species are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and occur only in Madagascar. Wrapped up alive and hidden in suitcases, the tortoises were flown from Madagascar to Bangkok via Nairobi.

Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, commented, “The criminals behind this shipment of ploughshare tortoises have effectively stolen over 10 percent of the estimated population in the wild.”

Radiated tortoise

The radiated tortoise is prized for its beauty and is in high demand in the illegal pet trade.

The beautiful appearance and rarity of these species has driven their demand in the black market pet trade. Both species are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that their trade is only permitted in exceptional circumstances. The radiated tortoise has suffered an immense decline in numbers due to habitat loss, hunting and collection for the pet trade, and is at risk from extinction within the century if further conservation action is not taken.

The 38-year-old Thai man was arrested as he attempted to collect the suitcases from the baggage carousel. However, the bags were registered to a Malagasy woman who was also arrested on site. The same man was arrested earlier in the year on a similar smuggling charge. Both felons are to face charges in Thailand.

We encourage the authorities to throw the book at these two. Making an example of them will hopefully serve as a deterrent for other smugglers,” said Shepherd.

Black pond turtle

Black pond turtles seized earlier in the day are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

The seizure was made hours after 300 Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) and 10 black pond turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) were found in abandoned luggage at the same airport. Although listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, Indian star tortoises are protected within their range (India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan), from which commercial export has been banned due to the high demand for this species in the pet trade. Black pond turtles are listed on CITES Appendix I.

Thailand seized over 4,300 tortoises and freshwater turtles between 2010 and 2012, and half of these were Indian star tortoises. The Conference of the Parties meeting saw a decision by delegates from Thailand and Madagascar to cooperate in an attempt to control wildlife smuggling between the two countries.

Illegally traded green turtles

Greater international cooperation is needed to fight the illegal trade in wildlife.

We urge authorities to go after the criminal masterminds behind these shipments and break the trade chains that threaten these incredibly rare animals,” Shepherd concluded.

The seized animals are currently being held in the Bang Pra Breeding Centre, a government rescue centre in Chonburi, Thailand. It is hoped that they will soon be able to be returned to Madagascar, where conditions and climate are more suitable for their survival.


Read more on this story at The Guardian – Over 10% of a single tortoise species’ population found in smuggler’s bag and TRAFFIC – Largest seizure of Critically Endangered ploughshare tortoises made in Thailand.

Read more about the ploughshare tortoise, radiated tortoise, and the black pond turtle on ARKive.


Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Mar 14

A flock of 45 endangered Jamaican parrots recently hatched from smuggled eggs has highlighted concerns over the growing illegal trade in Jamaican wildlife.

Photo of yellow-billed Amazon young

Young yellow-billed Amazons in nest

The 23 yellow-billed Amazons and 22 black-billed Amazons were the survivors from 74 eggs smuggled into Austria by men posing as tourists. After being confiscated at Vienna Airport, the eggs were taken to Vienna’s Schönbrunn Zoo, where the hatchlings are now being cared for.

Found only in Jamaica, both parrot species are considered to be threatened with extinction and are protected by law, but it is not uncommon to see these and other local species on sale in tourist towns across the island.

Conservationists fear that as demand grows for rare and exotic species, Jamaican authorities will struggle to protect the island’s unique wildlife.

Photo of black-billed Amazon, rear view

Black-billed Amazon

Strengthening enforcement

Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which is responsible for protecting the island’s natural resources, says it is strengthening its enforcement capabilities and increasing general awareness of the value of local wildlife.

Another tool in countering the illegal wildlife trade is the 2010 State of the Environment Report, which assesses the state and quality of Jamaica’s natural resources and so aids in their sustainable management and conservation.

Yellow-billed Amazon portrait

Yellow-billed Amazon

There are also various projects and initiatives underway to help protect Jamaica’s wildlife, such as the Jamaica Sea Turtle Project, which educates local people about and protects the sea turtles which nest in Jamaica, and the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Program, which aims to protect the Jamaican ground iguana.

The largest land vertebrate native to Jamaica and one of the most endangered lizards in the world, the Jamaican ground iguana was believed extinct until the rediscovery of a small population in 1990. Since then, the project has greatly increased the number of breeding iguanas by removing hatchlings from the wild and raising them in captivity until they are large enough to fend off predators.

Growing illegal trade

Despite these efforts, some believe that the iguanas have not escaped smugglers. There are also reports of a growing number of private menageries and increasing cases of tourists placing orders for rare species, including hawksbill turtles, leatherback turtles, Cat Island freshwater turtles (Jamaican slider turtles) and Jamaican boas. Meanwhile, ring-tailed pigeons are reported to be in particular demand among wealthy locals.

Photo of juvenile Jamaican ground iguana on branch

Critically Endangered Jamaican ground iguana

Further threats to Jamaica’s native wildlife come from habitat loss due to illegal logging and charcoal burning, as well as from invasive species and a lack of law enforcement.

The enforcement of the laws is totally inadequate. Rangers monitor only the fringes and roads in protected areas,” said Dr Byron Wilson, a scientist at the University of the West Indies.

Speaking about the plight of the Jamaican ground iguana, he added, “We have one of the rarest lizards in the world, and we could lose it.”

Read more on this story at IPS – A growing illicit trade threatens Jamaica’s wildlife.

View photos and videos of species from Jamaica on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

May 11

The demand for bile in traditional medicine and folk remedies continues to drive poaching and illegal trade of bears in Asia, according to a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

The report, entitled Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia, reveals that bear bile products were found on sale in traditional medicine outlets in all but one of the 13 countries and territories that were surveyed.

Photo of bear farm where bile is extracted from the gall bladders of Asiatic black bears

Bear farm where bile is extracted from the gall bladders of Asiatic black bears.

Complex trade

The report uncovered a complex and robust trade in bear products, with several countries either producing or consuming bear bile, with many doing both.

The most frequently encountered products were whole bear gall bladders and pills.

Mainland China was commonly the reported place of origin for bear products across Asia, while bear bile products were most frequently observed in mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam, where they were recorded in over half of all outlets that TRAFFIC surveyed.

Photo of Asiatic black bear bile products used in traditional Chinese medicine

Asiatic black bear bile products used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Flouting international trade laws

Despite being illegal to trade bear bile internationally, many countries continue to do so. An analysis of the origin of bear bile products by TRAFFIC found that import and export regulations are commonly flouted.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is meant to prohibit international commercial trade in the species that are listed on its Appendices, which includes all bears, as well as their parts and derivatives.

But, as Kaitlyn-Elizabeth Foley, lead author of the report and Senior Programme Officer of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, says, “Unbridled illegal trade in bear parts and products continues to undermine CITES which should be the world’s most powerful tool to regulate cross-border wildlife trade.”

The TRAFFIC report clearly demonstrates a failure to implement CITES requirements to stop illegal international bear bile trade effectively and protect bears from exploitation.

Photo of Asiatic black bear cubs used to provide bile from gall bladder

Asiatic black bear cubs used to provide bile from gall bladder.

Asiatic black bears and sun bears are the two most commonly exploited species in the bear bile trade. Both are listed on Appendix I of CITES, and both species are threatened by poaching and illegal trade.

“The demand for bile is one of the greatest drivers behind this trade and must be reduced if bear conservation efforts are to succeed,” adds Foley. “The study makes a clear case for authorities to shut down businesses selling illegal bear products and prosecute individuals caught selling, buying, transporting or keeping bears illegally.”

Photo of Malayan sun bear in cage

Malayan sun bear in cage.

Read the TRAFFIC press release or read the full report Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia.

Find out more about Asiatic black bears and sun bears on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author


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