When someone mentions poaching — illegal hunting, often of endangered animals — I almost always envision animals you might see on a safari, like elephants and rhinoceri. Sadly, these marvelous monsters of the savanna aren’t the only animals targeted for slaughter. Other species, even small, seemingly insignificant ones, have been driven to the point of extinction by this illegal harvest as well.
Poachers aren’t always bandits wielding machetes; those who fish or hunt without a license; hunt from a moving vehicle or aircraft; hunt on private or protected land without permission; or displace animals or plants that have been tagged by researchers are all considered poachers.
Whether through carelessness or criminal activity, the animals listed below have all become victims of poaching around the world.
This relative of the turtle sports a highly domed shell that’s light brown in color with prominent growth rings on each scute. “Found only in north-western Madagascar, the tortoise is critically endangered and only an estimated 400 adults remain in the wild,” reports EcoWatch. It’s unique look has made it a target of poachers who catch and sell them as exotic pets. Recently environmental organizations threw a “Tattoo the Tortoise” event to help. Etching a design on the shell doesn’t hurt the tortoise, but it does make them less desirable to poachers.
Deer meat, or venison, is prized for human consumption. No longer content to harvest deer during legal hunting seasons, violent, organized gangs of deer hunters have taken to the English countryside. Using high-tech equipment to track deer at night (which is illegal in the UK) this practice goes far beyond the norm, allowing poachers to take large numbers of animals on behalf of ”unscrupulous” butchers, dealers and restaurants.
The bluefin tuna is a majestic fish, weighing up to 1,000 pounds and capable of swimming 50 mph. Its fatty meat also makes a fairly tasty piece of sushi, which explains why the bluefin has been fished to the brink of extinction. “With so few bluefins left in the oceans, demand has driven the price of tuna through the roof. Just four months ago, a bluefin weighing close to 500 pounds sold at a fish auction in Tokyo, fetched $1.76 million, or close to $3,600 a pound,” reports Eric Zerkel. And skyrocketing market price is all the poachers need to come calling.
Red and Pink Coral
Corals are prized for use in jewelry, home decor and homeopathic medicines, and red and pink varieties are thought to be the most valuable. Just last year, two Tennessee men were arrested for illegally harvesting coral from the Florida Keys. In 2010, delegates to a world wildlife conference rejected a sweeping proposal that would have closely regulated the trade of red and pink corals worldwide.
Also known as scaly anteaters, pangolin are the only mammals that have scales. Because these scales are made of keratin, the same material found in human fingernails and rhinoceros horns, they are highly prized by practitioners of Eastern medicine. Likewise, pangolin meat is viewed as a delicacy in Asia and Africa. Although the pangolin trade was banned in 2000, poachers have continued to chip away at the global population. In early 2013, a Chinese fishing vessel carrying 400 boxes of butchered pangolin ran aground in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Philippines, where it was discovered by the Philippine Coast Guard.