Pangolins part 2

So, pangolin was a morning name yesterday. And then the NYT Science Times arrived, with two pangolin stories on the front page:

“In Vietnam, Rampant Wildlife Smuggling Prompts Little Concern”, by Rachel Nuwer

“A Struggle to Save the Scaly Pangolin”, by Erica Goode

Very distressing.

The beginning of the Nuwer story:

U MINH, Vietnam — Luc Van Ho slips through a tangled thicket of jungle, graceful as a dancer. A blanket of dried bamboo and melaleuca leaves on the forest floor barely crackles beneath his bare feet. Only the smell of cigarette smoke betrays his presence.

A hunter, Mr. Luc, 45, set out at dawn from his family’s bamboo-thatched home in Vietnam’s U Minh forest to check a half dozen homemade traps rigged along animal trails in the underbrush and on canal banks frequented by snakes and turtles.

He stops at a snare trap made of wood and bicycle brake wire, nearly invisible beneath leaves. The trap is empty, not unusual.

“Before, this forest was very different,” Mr. Luc said. “Now, the animals are so few that most hunters are changing their jobs.”

Still, in the previous two weeks, Mr. Luc had caught nine Southeast Asian box turtles and Malayan snail-eating turtles, five elephant trunk snakes, a handful of water birds and two rare Himalayan griffon vultures. For safekeeping, Mr. Luc stashed the vultures in his brother’s house, leaving them tethered in the bedroom until he can figure out what to do with them.

In the past, Mr. Luc’s hunting trips often yielded wildlife bonanzas, including prized pangolins. Also known as scaly anteaters, they are among the most trafficked mammals in the world. Mr. Luc works with traders willing to buy live pangolins for $60 a pound.

Although he caught just two pangolins last year, that price makes it well worth the effort to keep seeking them out. He knows, however, that this lucrative resource is finite.

“Pangolins will be extinct soon,” he said. Still, he expresses no plans to retire.

Luc is treating hunting as an extractive industry, like mining, with no appreciation that the animals could be a renewable resource. You extract until there’s no more, then move on.

The beginning of the Goode piece:

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — With its scaly exterior, peculiar body shape and propensity for rolling into an armored ball when threatened, the pangolin has invited comparison to the artichoke and the pine cone.

But a 3-year-old female pangolin at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center here seemed oblivious to her odd appearance and unaware that she was missing two feet, both lost to a poacher’s snare.

Accompanied by her lone male offspring, she ambled through the leaves and underbrush, sniffed amiably at a visitor’s shoe and headed off to check for leftovers in the bowl of mashed insects prepared by a caretaker at the center.

Elephants and rhinoceroses often serve as the poster animals for the illegal trade in wildlife — the elephant killed for the ivory in its tusks, the rhino for its horn.

But the most frequently trafficked mammal, wildlife experts say, is a far less familiar creature: the pangolin, an insectivore with a tongue longer than its body and a tail so powerful it can hang upside down from tree branches.

Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in parts of China, where it is believed to nourish the kidneys. Pangolin scales, made of keratin, like human fingernails, are used in traditional medicine to treat skin diseases and other ailments. Trade in the animal has a long history: In 1820, King George III of England was presented with a suit of armor made from pangolin scales.

The creature really has no significant defenses against this onslaught.

Photo: A rescued pangolin that is part of a conservation program in Vietnam. The animal’s meat can bring $150 a pound in restaurants. Justin Mott

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