Up Close and Personal

It’s generally acknowledged that we are now officially in the midst of a major phase of extinction when it comes to plant and animal life on our home planet. Whether it’s called the Sixth, the Holocene or the Anthropocene Extinction, this wave of die-offs is the biggest in almost 70 million years, when three-quarters of all plant, animal and sea life perished in the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction.

Pangolin and Pangolin Man. Images of the pangolin keepers who rescue and rehabilitate pangolins, the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world, hunted for its meat and scales. Image: Adrian Steirn via Africa Geographic

Pangolin and Pangolin Man. Images of the pangolin keepers who rescue and rehabilitate pangolins, the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world, hunted for its meat and scales.
Image: Adrian Steirn

There are a couple of key differences between these two major extinction events.

For one thing, the earlier extinction is widely considered to be the result of a massive asteroid impact that had a series of long-lasting effects – but there is some disagreement on that origination story. Other causes could have been a series of volcanic eruptions, or climate change, or sea level change. At this great distance, we don’t know if it was one factor or a combination of factors. In any case, it was a planetary change caused by elements far beyond the control of the species that went extinct as well as those that survived.

This time around, we have a fairly clear idea of what is causing the current round of extinction, which is proceeding at a rate estimated at 140,000 species per year. That’s every year, not a cumulative number. Species are dying off at far higher rates than we can count them.

This time, we know that what’s causing this epic die-off is a combination of climate change, habitat loss, human impact in the form of hunting, industry and pollution.

Contrary to the last time around, this is no outside force: This time, a single species is having the impact of a major asteroid. Or a series of volcanic eruptions.

On a positive note, in the midst of all this, there is hope. As it turns out, when we put our collective mind to a task, we can turn the tide. New Chinese regulations banning the ivory trade, a crackdown on trafficking in pangolin products and a classification by the IUCN of the animals as extremely threatened, might well end up saving these animals from oblivion.

It’s the efforts of people on the ground, like the Pangolin Men and the Tikki Hywood Trust shown in these images by Adrian Steirn, that make the crucial difference. Coalitions of farmers and activists, municipal and state bans on the use of known insecticides or the promotion of green havens, big regulations combined with hands-on local work and dedication, it all counts.

We won’t save everything, but we can slow the rate considerably. Individual efforts can make a real difference.

What animal or plant will you help save today?

All photos used with the kind permission of Adrian Steirn.

Making Choices

I was doing some early morning grocery shopping this morning, and I was buying avocados. Above the avocado bin were two types of produce bags: a roll of the thin plastic bags, and a stack of bags made of recycled paper.

This might seem like a tangential story to begin a post about World Pangolin Day with, but bear with me for just a moment.WorldPangolinDay2016-640x729


If you read this blog, you know which one I took. And I only took a paper sack because I’d forgotten to bring along the ones we save for re-use.

A man next to me reached past me and grabbed the end of the plastic roll. He pulled, and fought to separate the bag from the roll.

While I was being very picky about choosing avocados with just the right level of ripeness (we Californians are avocado snobs), he went about trying to get the bag open.

As he struggled, he glanced at me, watching me squeeze all the good avocados before he could even open his produce bag.

In a fit of unsolicited do-gooderism, I used that moment to say not only were paper bags easier, but they didn’t take months or decades or centuries to decompose (depending on the kind of plastic). It’s such a small choice to make in the produce aisle, with such a long-term impact.

Of course he went with the plastic bag. But maybe next time he won’t.

Which brings me to the pangolin, also known as the scaly anteater.

Pangolin in defensive position. Source: Project Pangolin

Pangolin in defensive position.
Source: Project Pangolin

Every year, I mark World Pangolin Day, the third Saturday of February. I’ve written on their natural history, why they are unusual, that they are the most trafficked endangered mammal in the world, and that the medicinal uses for their scales are of little more value than eating one’s own fingernails or hair.

I even invented a cocktail called the Happy Pangolin.

In the end, it comes down to making choices.

Pangolin scales for sale Photo: TRAFFIC

Pangolin scales for sale

Legislative choices that are the underpinning for the protection of any endangered species; personal choices that cut the demand that drives the market for poached animals.

A new smartphone application, Wildlife Witness, allows tourists and locals alike to safely report wildlife crime that involves pangolins and other endangered animals, from trafficking to restaurant sales.

The good news is, choices are being made that could help the pangolin survive, provided those choices are implemented quickly enough.

The choices we make every day add up. Let’s keep making them.

A Little Goose Chase

We visited the county of Derbyshire, UK, a few weeks ago, travelling through an area that I suppose in the United States would be considered a fly-over zone. That is, most people from the more popular regions would fly over this region rather than pick it as a destination.

We were there with friends, one of whom had studied at the University of Sheffield. And not only were we lucky when it came to walking between raindrops, but these knowledgeable friends had booked us into the disarmingly attractive Devonshire Arms hotel in Beeley.

The mystery bronze. Photo: PK Read

The mystery bronze.
Photo: PK Read

It was in the pub of this 18th century inn that I found the bronze object above, perched on a stone ledge. The manager told me it had been given to the inn some decades earlier by Chatsworth House, and had been on the stone ledge since anyone could remember.

For me, it was clear what it was intended to represent, and also, what it actually represented.

Not far from Beeley is the Chatsworth House estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. If you’ve ever seen the 2008 movie The Duchess, you’ve seen some of this incredible place. A vast collection of artwork, magnificent gardens, and a telephone recording that features the current Duke politely requesting your patience until the next operator is available.

The crest of the Cavendish family, that is to say of the Duke of Devonshire, is a snake. And this motif can be seen throughout Chatsworth House. The same crest is a recurring image at the Devonshire Arms.

The Cavendish family serpent crest. Source: Britain Express

The Cavendish family serpent crest.
Source: Britain Express

So it follows that the entwined, scaled bronze from the pub was taken to be a snake.

But I don’t think that’s what it is.

So I called the Collection department at Chatsworth House, described the bronze and its location, and a very friendly person told me that the object was listed as a “Bronze of the British Modern school, 20th century, snake.” But the Chatsworth collection files had no image of the bronze itself. Nor did they have listings whatsoever of any pangolins in their collection, which they checked once I explained what a pangolin is.

I told her that I didn’t think the bronze was of a snake. I am pretty sure the object is meant to be a curled pangolin.

The thick tail, the triangular scales, the large body in relation to the tail, all looks very pangolin-ish. Unfortunately, the sculpture is lacking an identifying head or any feet – turned on its back, there is a second tail curled to the middle. So, really, the bronze is of the tail ends of two pangolins.

I plugged the photo of the bronze which I had taken into Google Image search. Here are a few of my results:

Illustration of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), under construction in southern France. Source: Technology Update/YouTube

Illustration of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), under construction in southern France.
Source: Technology Update/YouTube

Monster, a pet desert tortoise rescued from abandonment. Source: San Diego Zoo Desert Tortoise Conservation Center

Monster, a pet desert tortoise rescued from abandonment.
Source: San Diego Zoo Desert Tortoise Conservation Center

Ariens snowblower tires and rims. Source: Ebay

Ariens snowblower tires and rims.
Source: Ebay

There are many interesting and rather random images, but neither pangolin nor snake appeared. I can’t be entirely sure, at this point, whether the pub bronze is a snake or a pangolin.

Here’s a more modern bronze of a pangolin.

Bronze pangolin sculpture. Artist: Nick Mackman

Bronze pangolin sculpture.
Artist: Nick Mackman

And here’s an actual pangolin curled into defensive position.

Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) Photo: PALF Project for the Application of Law for Fauna Republic of Congo

Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis)
Photo: PALF Project for the Application of Law for Fauna Republic of Congo

Why do I care?

Simple: I’m intrigued by these odd, rapidly disappearing mammals, and when I see what looks like a representation of one in an unexpected location, it piques my curiosity.

Like the various photos that came up when I searched for the bronze, we can see any number of things when we look at a certain image, depending on our perspective.

Be that as it may: Pangolins are one of the strangest mammals on the planet, they are the only scaled mammals, and they are being poached into extinction before most people will have ever heard of them.

Perhaps as important, I deeply enjoy the occasional wild goose chase. Or in this case, pangolin chase.

Pangolin Source: Our Beautiful World

Source: Our Beautiful World



Tipping the Scales

21 February is World Pangolin Day, and anyone who follows this blog knows I have a soft spot for the scaly anteater that is being rapidly hunted into extinction.

The ongoing decimation of the slow and strange pangolin is a grim illustration of the long-lasting impact greed and lack of political willpower can have on fellow inhabitants on the planet.

Pangolin in defensive position. Source: Project Pangolin

Pangolin in defensive position.
Source: Project Pangolin

Pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine, mostly in China and Vietnam. I found a site which promises to be a “complete guide to proven herbal remedies.” Note the word ‘proven’.

It lists pangolin scales as being composed of “stearic acid, cholesterol, N-butyl tricosylamide, cyclo (L-seryl-L-tyrosyl), cyclo (D-seryl-L-tyrosyl), and other 18 kinds of microelements” and “16 types of free amino acids.”

This makes it sound like pangolin scales have a chemical composition uniquely suited to medicinal uses. It does not highlight that pangolin scales, along with rhino horn and goat hooves and human fingernails, all have the same basic composition, and are all made of keratin.

I have no doubt that practitioners and adherents of traditional medicines believe in what they are doing with pangolin scales, and by extension, the consumption of pangolin flesh, especially that of unborn pangolins.

However, the same web site volunteers that most practitioners have been substituting buffalo horn for ‘medicinal’ rhino horn since the 1990s due to poaching and legal issues.

Rhino horn.

Rhino horn.

So if one kind of horn can simply be substituted for another, from entirely different animals, why not just substitute human nail cuttings for pangolin scales?

In the end, they all have approximately the same medicinal value beyond that of a placebo, namely, none.

Traditional medicines were born in a time of fewer humans and more animals. Harvesting these animals from the wild until they are all gone is a ridiculous, illegal and shameful undertaking for all concerned, from those who poach to those who consume.

An African tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) climbs a tree. Source: British Museum

An African tree pangolin climbs a tree.
Source: British Museum

The various species of critically endangered pangolins (and the rhino, and the elephant, and all the other iconic and lesser known animals being hunted to extinction) have a place in the world, but it’s not in a sack, being traded for every-increasing amounts of money to satisfy our own greed for better health or more income.

So on this World Pangolin Day, whip up a Happy Pangolin cocktail, celebrate the pangolins and other animals staying right where they belong, and celebrate all those people who are working hard to achieve that goal, maybe make a donation, and most importantly, maybe have a conversation with someone else about not supporting the illegal trade of any animal or plant.

Save Pangolins

IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group

Tikki Hywood Trust (Africa)

Save Vietnam’s Wildlife

Project Pangolin

Pangorarium (Facebook) – keep up with events and newsWorldPangolinDay2015-640x669

Pressing Issues

Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) Photo: PALF Project for the Application of Law for Fauna Republic of Congo

Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis)
Photo: PALF Project for the Application of Law for Fauna Republic of Congo

I was sitting in my office today, wondering – as I sometimes do – how to write about pangolins. As I often do.

There was an unaccustomed sound outside, something that broke above the unrelenting rain we’ve had over the past few days. Children’s voices, a lot of them. I stood to look out and find dozens of little kids walking past our house, which lies on a quiet cul-de-sac.

It turns out they had been invited by my neighbor to experience the fine art of apple pressing first hand. The tiny village school only has 90 children from kindergarten through fifth grade – this must have been almost a third of the school.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

They stood and watched as my neighbor – whose family has been pressing apple juice from their orchards for generations – loaded a small press with the season’s apples, then pressed the caramel-colored juice out into a bucket.

The sweetness of the best apple juice I personally have ever tasted should remain in their memories, even if the details of apple pressing might not.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

The apple pressing visit is an exercise in teaching the next generation that apple juice doesn’t originate in plastic jugs any more than meat originates in styrofoam packaging.

Even more, it’s about raising awareness of old skills and habits that are going extinct.

Phot: PK Read

Phot: PK Read

What we take in through our own experience, through pleasure, through a moment outside life’s regular classroom, can leave such a lasting mark. So much of what we learn as small children is not directly remembered in detail, but in a sense of what is good, and what is not.

And so to the pangolin.

There’s a new game out, designed by the maker of Angry Birds, that’s meant to raise awareness of the endangered pangolin.

A pangolin introduces itself to, what else, angry birds. Image: Rovio Entertainment

A pangolin introduces itself to, what else, angry birds.
Image: Rovio Entertainment

The pangolin, otherwise known as the scaly anteater, has the dubious distinction of being the most illegally traded mammal on the planet. Its numbers are dwindling faster than conservationists can count, its habits and place in the environment are disappearing faster than researchers can follow.

An excellent study in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine examined the reasons animals are used for medicinal purposes, ranging from a belief in traditional practices to the unavailability and expense of modern medicine (as well as a more generalized distrust of Western medicine).

Then there’s the profit end of the stick, the money to be made by selling the precious commodities of ever scarcer animal parts.

Working at cross-purposes to conservationist interests, ‘zootherapeutic’ practices show no sign of diminishing even as the animals upon which they rely go extinct.

Pangolin Illustration: Claire Scully via Aeon (with an interesting discussion of pangolins and physics)

Illustration: Claire Scully via Aeon (with an interesting discussion of pangolins and physics)

Many efforts to stop the use of pangolin flesh and scales for traditional medicines are underway; few of them are quite as playful as Roll with the Pangolin, launched today by the Tikki Hywood Trust in Zimbabwe in collaboration with United for Wildlife and Rovio Entertainment, makers of Angry Birds.

The game is meant to raise awareness of the pangolin and other endangered animals as well as the dangers of the illegal animal trade, as United for Wildlife head Prince William states, an amazing animal goes extinct that many haven’t even heard of yet.

Sweet juice and silly games, simple ways to get a message across, something that might just change the attitudes of a lifetime.

Playing Favorites

red-scale-endangered-rwpAs with anything else, there tend to be trends and favorites when it comes to endangered animal species. The polar bear, the orang-utan, the rhinoceros, the tiger, the lion are the iconic poster animals of conservation. The animals that draw attention, affection, and donations. We like to identify with our favorites, and like to think that our favorite animal says something about who we are as individuals.

They are often the alpha creatures of their ecosystems, the main hunters or the largest animals. Maybe it’s in human nature to associate ourselves with the big guys. And from the standpoint of conservation, it’s not the worst approach. Saving the big guys, by definition, means trying to save all the other elements that support their survival. The ecosystems, the prey, and territory.

And then there are the little guys. The ones that fill a niche between smallest and largest, or look like any number of other, similar animals, or are too little known to achieve star conservation status.

These forgotten species come from all corners of the animal world, from snails to clams to sloths to owls. Or, until recently, the pangolin.

What prompted me to write this today, however, was the small news item that a famous pop singer, Lady Gaga, was bitten by a slow loris that had been brought in as a prop for her music video, which was being shot in Los Angeles.

Loris faces Source: Wikipedia / Lydekker, R. (1904)

Loris faces
Source: Wikipedia / Lydekker, R. (1904)

 There was another recent slow loris story when Rihanna had her photo taken with a captive loris in Phuket, Thailand, last year. I’m pretty sure neither of them knew that the slow loris population is rapidly decreasing, and that whoever held a slow loris up next to them had directly contributed to that decline.

All eight species of the slow loris (genus Nycticebus) are currently listed as vulnerable or endangered, due to their popularity in the pet trade, or to their supposed medicinal values. The slow loris is a small primate that doesn’t travel well, it doesn’t breed well in captivity, and it doesn’t make a good pet. I won’t even go into the unspeakable treatment undergone by the slow loris to make it ‘suitable’ for handling. But it has those adorable eyes.

The total number of animal species on Earth is estimated at 8.7 million.  Source: National Geographic / IUCN

The total number of animal species on Earth is estimated at 8.7 million.
Source: National Geographic / IUCN

I suppose, and hope, that the slow loris will win its conservation advocates, perhaps even aided by these stories, because it is particularly cute and looks more like a toy than like a real animal. With any luck, these stories won’t make more people head out to the markets where the slow loris is sold openly, in spite of its status and the ban in all countries on selling it or any of its parts.

I suspect the multitude of endangered arthropods and molluscs won’t have it as easy. The endangered list grows longer by the day, even as there are efforts in the United States to roll back the Endangered Species Act.

It requires a widening of the gaze to stop playing favorites, changing our habits, and an acknowledgement that not all creatures are simply there for our amusement and consumption.

The Happy Pangolin

It’s the third annual World Pangolin Day, a time to raise awareness of the strange and wondrous animal that is the single most encountered mammal in the illegal global trade in endangered animals.

Pangolin Source: Our Beautiful World

Source: Our Beautiful World

The odd pangolin, a scaly anteater that looks like a cross between a streamlined badger and a pine cone, is captured and consumed in the mistaken belief that its keratin scales hold medicinal value – although they are little different from human fingernails. As the pangolin grows ever more scarce, pangolin flesh, and even the fetuses, are made into pricey soups as a demonstration of luxury consumption.

Pangolin & tongue Source: Platyoctopie / Deviantart

Pangolin & tongue
Source: Platyoctopie / Deviantart

Meanwhile, the eight species of pangolin in the world are rapidly becoming extinct.

In honor of the day, I wanted to make a Happy Pangolin cocktail, a drink that reflected the long anteater tongue, the scales, the ants, and the tart appeal of the pangolin.

I started with this – hard apple cider, a slice of cherimoya fruit (note the black seeds for ants), and a long, slender slice of cucumber for the pangolin tongue. I made a reduction of basil essence, mixed that with cognac, and poured it over the fruit.

Happy Pangolin One The best looking, but blandest cocktail.

Happy Pangolin One
The best looking, but blandest cocktail.

But I was unsatisfied with the taste – too sweet, too bland. A pangolin is many things, but it is not bland.

So I moved on. To kiwi fruit (note the black seeds for the ants) mashed with a bit of sugar and basil, the cucumber tongue, and this time, calvados, prosecco and a scaly garnish of pineapple skin.

Well. It tasted just fine, quite delicious, actually. But it was murky, the basil floated around aimlessly. A third try, mashing together the kiwi and basil, rendered the basil flavor too acidic.

Happy Pangolin Two Tasty, but murky.

Happy Pangolin Two
Tasty, but murky. Ditto for Happy Pangolin Three, which is not shown here.

Finally, running out of cucumber, I made this variation. A bit of brown sugar in the bottom of a glass, followed by half slices of kiwi. Prosecco carefully poured over the fruit (it fizzes easily), followed by a shot of calvados, then a cucumber tongue, a slice of pineapple skin perched on the side, garnished with a sprig of fresh basil.

It’s tangy, refreshing, unexpected and overall, pretty good.

Happy Pangolin Four The current favorite, to be reattempted when I have more cucumber for a longer tongue.

Happy Pangolin Four
The current favorite, to be reattempted when I have more cucumber for a longer tongue.

What did I learn from making a Happy Pangolin for World Pangolin Day?

Much like the campaign to save the pangolin, the road to success is paved with many failed attempts, there is no single way to reach the goal of a Happy Pangolin. Any and all variations must be tried. Tenacity and determination are of paramount importance.

Source: Annimaticus

Source: Annimaticus


Go here to find out what you can do to support an end to killing and trade in pangolins.

Find out more at Annimaticus, at the IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group, and at Project Pangolin. Let’s help make sure this oddball branch on the Tree of Life doesn’t wither!

The Pangolin branch on the phylogenetic tree. Source: OneZoom

The Pangolin branch on the phylogenetic tree.
Source: OneZoom

And in the meantime, I hope you enjoy a Happy Pangolin with friends this weekend!

Two Trails


The running path, taken earlier. Looks pretty much like this now – a little less green on the ground, a little less blue in the sky.

A brisk wind is chasing rain across the sky in quick, sharp intervals, strobe lights of sunshine cutting through. Just enough for a good run under a blue sky, between the raindrops.

I had planned to write about spring barley and the malting process that leads to single malt whisky, but before I could even get started, I fell down a rabbit hole of farming information regarding the glut of malting barley being stored from last year’s crop, how storage capacities of Scottish maltsters have been fully reached and what that means for existing barley stocks in terms of germination and export.

Fascinating stuff, the long path that leads up to the malting process itself. At least, to an amateur agricultural nerd and single malt enthusiast.

So, instead, I’ll head into a spot of sun, and leave with the promise of more malting stories to come at a later date, when the running trail isn’t beckoning more than the path of barley.

Next weekend, though, the plan is to introduce a new cocktail of my own invention, the Scaly Anteater, in honor of World Pangolin Day on 15 February.

For now though, a song of neither the whisky trail, nor my running trail here in France, but a trail song of a slightly different nature.

Placing Value

There’s a well-known old American film called It’s A Wonderful Life. It stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a good and generous businessman who finds himself in deep financial trouble. A banker, the infamous cinematic villian named Mr. Potter, reminds a desperate George Bailey that as a last resort, Bailey has a life insurance policy. “You’re worth more dead than alive,” scoffs Mr. Potter, for whom the value of life can only be measured in its monetary amount.

And so to the Cape Pangolin.

Baby pangolin Photo: Christian Boix

Baby pangolin
Photo: Christian Boix

The young pangolin above is one of the first Cape Pangolins ever born in captivity. It is the result of the conservation efforts of the Rare & Endangered Species Trust (REST) in Namibia. An adult pangolin had been bought by someone from a street vendor, and then turned over to the REST group. The adult was a pregnant female who gave birth at the REST facilities.

In terms of monetary value, this pinecone-scaled creature is in the negative area. It cost the person who rescued it from the street vendor an unknown amount, and is costing donation money and time with the REST team.

On the other hand, if this little pangolin were to enter the international illegal trade cycle by getting captured and shipped off to China, it would be worth a lot more, at least by the measurements we use to talk about ‘value’ . The most recent estimate I could find was $1000/kilo of fresh pangolin meat, with prices rising as the pangolin populations dwindle and disappear.

Pangolin soup Photo: TRAFFIC

Pangolin soup

Now, if that little pangolin were to make it alive to a certain kind of restaurant in Vietnam or China, catch the eye of a certain kind of consumer and get chosen to end up in a bowl of soup, it would be a very valuable pangolin indeed, if we are only using money as our measure. This bowl of pangolin soup could cost up to $700.

If the restaurant owner were to harvest and sell the scales – and at these prices, it would be a foolish owner who didn’t – the pangolin might be worth another $175/kilo of scales.

Pangolin scales for sale Photo: TRAFFIC

Pangolin scales for sale

We don’t have a measurement for what a pangolin is worth in its natural environment, or what it’s worth to its natural environment.

For example, the loss of elephants to some forests is worth most of the large trees because the elephants aren’t there to carry and distribute large seed pods. And the loss of the large trees has a knock-on effect of loss in habitat, biodiversity, and habitat survival. But until that habitat has something humans value – by which I mean something we can monetize – then none of that tends to mean much.

For the time being, however, this young pangolin has landed in one of the few places of humans don’t value the (utterly fabricated) medicinal qualities of its meat and scales, or the sad boasting rights of being able to afford a nearly extinct animal on one’s plate.

But unless it stays under the protective wing of its rescuers, this pangolin will continue to be worth more dead than alive.

Project Pangolin

Unforeseen Gatherings


Sea ice located along the shallow continental shelf of the Bering Sea usually provides a diving board, a hunting perch and resting place for female walrus and their young. With sea ice retreating into water too deep for hunting, the walrus have had to find safer shores.

Around 10,000 of them have gathered on a small barrier island near the village of Point Lay in northwestern Alaska. They were photographed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has been carrying out aerial surveys of marine mammals in areas of potential gas and oil development.

It’s not the first time the walrus have gathered on dry land to escape treacherous waters. While there, they remain more vulnerable to hunters, polar bears, and other stress factors that have, in the past, prompted deadly stampedes.

What looks like a termite mound here is actually a massive walrus pod. This clickable image can be enlarged.

Walrus gathering on Alaskan coastline Image: Stan Churches/NOAA

Here’s a quick update on a couple of topics I’ve followed over the past year:


I’ve written several times about the ongoing discussion surrounding the American eel. More specifically, the harvesting of young eel – elvers – during their spring run along the American East Coast in spring.

Prices for live elvers have skyrocketed over the past few years due to high demand in Asia, where the local populations have been decimated by overfishing, environmental pressures and natural disasters. The young eel are shipped to farms, where they are grown to adulthood and sold for consumption all over the world.

In light of how little is actually known about the current population and health of the eel population, there was talk earlier this year of tightening regulations when it comes to fishing elvers. This has, for the moment, been postponed until further notice. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s American eel management board has been unable to reach a consensus, likely pushing any decision until right before the 2014 season starts in early spring.

My overview of the American eel is here, with some of the other posts here and here.

A good discussion of the current fraught situation is here.

Via: glooskapandthefrog.org

Via: glooskapandthefrog.org


One of the more obscure objects of international animal smuggling is the odd pangolin, the scaled anteater which inhabits its very own lonely branch on the mammalian tree of life. I’ve talked about them here, when I looked at seizures of illegal shipments.

Pangolins are in demand because their scales (which are no different in composition than fingernails or hair) are used in some traditional medicines, while pangolin meat and fetuses are served as a delicacy in some East Asian cuisines. The pangolin is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The pangolin is considered to be one of the world’s most trafficked animals, yet I find very little on conviction rates following seizures.

Six men were convicted in Malaysia this year of smuggling 150 pangolins, sentenced to a year and jail and fined. Meanwhile, over seven tons of pangolin – some of them still alive – were confiscated by customs officials in Hai Phong, Vietnam. And in a baffling decision, the seized goods were auctioned off rather than destroyed, thus re-entering the illicit market.

No mention of what happened to the smugglers themselves.

The world’s first ever pangolin conference with the International Union for Conservation of Nature – Species Survival Commission (IUCN-SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group met in Singapore in July. Perhaps this will bring more attention this unique creature, hopefully before it is trafficked into extinction.

Infographic: Annamiticus