Saturday, August 23, 2014

India's Lesser-known Species Threatened by Poaching

The Indian pangolin has been heavily targeted by poachers to meet the growing demand for its meat which is highly prized as a delicacy in Southeast Asia and its scales as traditional Chinese medicine. 

In India, it is usually believed that the threat of poaching is known to target powerful and iconic species like the elephant, rhino, tiger, etc. In response, intensive protection measurements have been carried out over the years to ensure the survival of these powerful animals. However, a recent news report has indicated that poachers are beginning to target lesser-known species for the purpose of making quick and easy money. Among these little-known species are the magnificent Indian star tortoise and the very rare Indian pangolin. While tortoises are targeted for the exotic pet trade, others are ruthlessly slaughtered for either food, medicine, or aphrodisiacs claimed to contain supernatural powers against illnesses and increase sexual desire. The hunting of pangolins was almost unheard of, with an average of only three animals reported killed in India each year between 1990 and 2008. However, between 2009 and 2013, that number skyrocketed to over 320 animals killed every year. This count represented just the animals found by authorities, and the real number of animals killed could be up to ten times higher. The pangolin's meat is considered a delicacy in several parts of Southeast Asia, and its scales are ground up for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The belief in such body parts of the pangolin that are known to contain healing powers has contributed to the decline of the species in apocalyptic proportions, in order to meet the growing demand for the products in ChinaVietnam, and other countries in Southeast Asia. In addition to pangolins, monitor lizards have also been threatened by poaching. Their skins are known to be used in clothing accessories, and their livers and tongues are processed to be sold as aphrodisiacs.
The Indian star tortoise (top) has been targeted for the exotic pet trade, while the monitor lizard (bottom) has been ruthlessly slaughtered for its skin which is used as a clothing accessory along with liver and tongue as aphrodisiacs. 

It is extremely disheartening and frustrating to see that only larger and more prominent species like elephants, tigers, and rhinos are receiving a great to deal of attention concerning their protection and conservation while lesser-known species are being largely ignored. This indicates that poachers are always keeping their eyes and ears open for new species of animals that can guarantee them fast money. That is, when poaching for tigers, rhinos, and other powerful animals becomes impossible due to conservation measurements directed towards them, poachers would turn to smaller species of animals like tortoises, monitor lizards, and pangolins. These endangered animals, like their larger counterparts, are also heavily threatened by poaching in which they are brutally slaughtered for their meat and other body parts believed to contain supernatural powers against various illnesses and increase sexual desire. In addition, some like the Indian star tortoises have and continue to become victims of the exotic pet trade. Due to the problem of turning a blind eye on lesser-known endangered species, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade has and continues to flourish and has led to a dramatic decline of animals like the pangolin. Pangolins are known to share their habitat with tigers, rhinos, elephants, and other larger animals and although they are small, they play a crucial role in maintaining balance in the ecosystem by keeping the insect population in check. Conservationists, conservation groups, wildlife experts, authorities, and anybody involved in global wildlife protection need to learn and understand that special attention should never be limited to larger endangered animals; it should be directed at all endangered species regardless of big or small they are. This would greatly help in the protection and conservation of endangered species at a global scale if all endangered species, no matter what their size or how well-recognized they are, receive a great deal of attention regarding their conservation and protection in order to ensure their survival on the long-run.

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