April 20, 2013
Pygmy elephants, Asiatic lions and Siamese crocodiles are among the endangered species in the news this week.
Pygmy elephant update: Remember the 14 pygmy elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) that were poisoned in Borneo back in February? There’s both good and bad news about the case. The good news is that Baby Joe, the youngster that survived the poisoning (and pulled at our heartstrings after he was photographed trying to wake his dead mother) is doing well. The bad news is that the elephants’ exact cause of death still has not been identified, nor has their killers. The investigation, however, continues.
You can take the Gir lions out of Gir but you can’t take the Gir out of Gir lions: India’s Supreme Court this week approved a plan to move a small number of rare Asiatic Lions (Panthera leo persica) from the Gir forest in Gujarat to a new reserve in Madhya Pradesh. This is great news for the lions, which are so beloved and identified with Gir that they are typically referred to as “Gir lions.” There are now too many lions to fit comfortably in Gir (see my article about them here), and keeping them all in one place increases the likelihood of a single disaster affecting the entire population. The new reserve will help to alleviate both situations. In addition, this could help to give the lions room to increase their population level beyond their current 400 or so big cats. The people of Gujarat do love their lions and have long fought the proposed move—and even protested the Supreme Court’s decision this week—but as long as they are protected in their new reserve this is a change that should be welcomed.
What a croc (in a good way): Here’s some good news for the critically endangered Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis). Nineteen baby crocs, each 19 months old, were released into wetlands in Lao PDR this week. They’ll live in a “soft release” pen for a few months to get acclimated to their new habitat, after which they’ll be allowed to go forth and do crocodilian things. Only an estimated 250 Siamese crocodiles remain in the wild today.
Rhino horns and toe nails: WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, have launched a new ad campaign to convince people in Vietnam not to buy rhino horns. Since rhino horn is made out of keratin, the same stuff that’s found in human fingernails, the clever ads replace a rhino’s horns with an image of feet. Ick. Vietnam has become one of if not the top market for illegal rhino horn, where it is used as a hangover cure, detoxifier and sexual stimulant (it doesn’t really do any of those things).
One of the ads appears below. The copy translates “Rhino horn is made of the same stuff as human nails. Still want some?” Awesome.
Adding insult to injury: A boat smuggling more than 10,000 pounds of frozen pangolin meat struck and damaged a protected coral reef in the Philippines on April 15. The Chinese smugglers-slash-fishermen on board the vessel are being held and could face still jail time and fines. Good. All pangolin species (also referred to as “spiny anteaters”) are increasingly threatened by poaching and smuggling for use in traditional Asian medicine and for their meat.
Well, that’s it for this time around. For more endangered species news stories throughout the week, read the regular Extinction Countdown articles here at Scientific American, “like” Extinction Countdown on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter.