Lake of Superlatives

Lake Baikal. Panorama of the Maloye Morye, Island of Olkhon, the Olkhonskiye Vorota Straits, and Mukhor Cove Image: Magic Baikal

Lake Baikal. Panorama of the Maloye Morye, Island of Olkhon, the Olkhonskiye Vorota Straits, and Mukhor Cove
Image: Magic Baikal

Deepest, largest, oldest – Lake Baikal in Siberia is unique. Formed an estimated 25 million years ago in an ancient rift valley, it holds 20% of the world’s unfrozen freshwater, more than all the North American Great Lakes combined. At 5,371 ft (1,637 m) deep, it is the deepest. It is 395.2 miles (636 km) long and home to 1700 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which don’t exist anywhere else. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Lake Baikal Map via thomasfrank.org

Lake Baikal
Map via thomasfrank.org

Lake Baikal has much to offer. One thing it will no longer have, however, is the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill.

Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill Image: unity.lv

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has stated that the environmental concerns of the lake outweigh those of the paper mill, which was opened in the industrial heydey of the the mid 1960s. It is estimated that the process of shutting down the plant will take two years – the liquidation of plant waste will take 4-6 years. Future plans include developing the area for tourism.

Medvedev was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.”It’s time to muster up the courage and make responsible decisions.”

Lake Baikal in winter Source: satorifoto via ILTWMT

More:

UPI.com article – Russia will spend $437.4 million closing down Baikal paper mill

AP article – Russia to close paper mill on Lake Baikal

 

 

 

Fragile Armour

The eight pangolin species Via: http://novataxa.blogspot.fr/2013/02/pangolin-manidae.html

The eight pangolin species
Via: Novataxa.blogspot.fr

Pangolins, or the scaly anteater, are a strange branch on the phylogenetic tree of mammals. A single order, Pholidota, with one extant family, Manidae, with one single genus, Manis, comprised of the eight remaining species at left. They are the only mammals with hard keratin scales, and this undoubtedly is part of the reason they are both popular for hunting as well as endangered.

Pangolin skin makes for interesting and unusual leather products, similar to armadillo, while the odd scales considered to have (unsubstantiated) medicinal properties for asthma and lactation. As pangolin scales are little different from toenails, it seems unlikely that humans would derive much more benefit from their consumption that we would by becoming nailbiters. Pangolin has been a bushmeat favorite for many years. On a habitat level, when they aren’t rolling themselves into impressively armoured balls, pangolins are important for controlling insect populations.

It’s been illegal to trade pangolin products since 2002, and yet, when I did a quick search today for pangolin products, it turns out they are being openly offered on the Internet. Whether the dealers offering pangolin meat and scales for sale can actually deliver the goods is something I don’t intend to explore. It’s an oddity of human nature that the more endangered and rare a product, be it pangolin products or platinum, the more hotly we imbue that product with delicate and rare qualities.

So when a Chinese “fishing” ship carrying approximately 2000 frozen pangolins destined for illegal trade ran aground on reefs in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Philippines, the main source of surprise wasn’t the illegal cargo. After all, the Chinese market has to be sourcing its pangolin habit somewhere, so it makes sense the traders were flying under a Chinese flag.

The real surprise, for me, is the irony of traders who deal illegally in endangered and protected animals traders being undone by an endangered and protected reef.

More:

Project Pangolin website

Associated Press article (via Huffington Post) – Pangolin Meat from China

Annamiticus article

Mongabay article

Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis)
Source: Valerius Tygart/Wikipedia