Monday, January 18, 2010

Pangolins in peril

I've written on the Asian wildlife trade many times over the last years: the Asian turtle crisis, with turtles of many species being vacuumed off the Asian continent and eaten to the brink of extinction in less than a decade. Turtles are now being shipped or smuggled from across the globe, from Africa, the U.S., and every part of the globe, valued for their meat (and the longevity it is thought to impart) and used for Asian traditional medicine.

I've also written on the trade in tiger bone and other tiger parts, focusing on India's precipitous decline--catastrophic losses that were finally admitted by the government after decades of coverups. Nearly all parts of the cat, from eyes and whiskers to genitals and tail, are prescribed for their purported medicinal and aphrodisiac powers.
This month, I have a story on the Southeast Asian trade in pangolins--shy, armadillo-ish animals. They are the most-traded mammal on the illegal wildlife black market. Prices for their meat, organs and scales has skyrocketed from $10/kilo in 1990 to between $160-$250 today. Their precipitous decline prompted re-listing of two species, the Chinese and Malayan pangolins, from near-threatened to endangered.

Asian traditional medicine needs to adopt substitutes for endangered species--and needs to substitute manufactured synthetic compounds for animal ingredients. With pressures from habitat loss, disease, climate change, and so much more--animals can no longer be taken out of the wild in large quantities for any reason. Many species cannot survive even small losses.