Endangered Species Handbook

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Vanishing Species

What is Threatening Species? Persecution, Hunting and Trade

     A total of 367 species of birds are threatened by hunting for food (233 species) and trapping for the cage bird trade (111 species) (BI 2000).  The majority of birds that are threatened by meat and feather hunting are Asian pheasants, grouse, partridges, bustards, guans, megapodes and other large birds (BI 2000).  The family of birds most threatened by trapping for the cage bird trade is the parrot family, Psittacidae, with 57 percent of threatened species trapped for this trade (BI 2000).  These parrots are native to Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia, and some have been pushed to the edge of extinction (See Trade chapter).  The Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), for example, had been reduced from several hundred birds in the wild in Brazil to a single male when he, too, was illegally trapped in late 2000.  This species is now extinct in the wild. 
     Hunting and capture for commercial purposes threatens 212 mammal species (Hilton-Taylor 2000).  Many mammals have been endangered by hunting and persecution, including a number of large predators.  The number of bats on the threatened list has grown dramatically in recent years, with many fruit bats threatened by killing for food, and others by vandals or those who persecute them for supposed threats to human health.  Trade affects about 29 percent of threatened mammals (Hilton-Taylor 2000).  Both the Asian (Elephas maximus) and African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) species have been reduced to endangered status primarily as a result of killing for their ivory and meat.  The 1989 listing of the African Elephant on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) succeeded in putting an end to more than 90 percent of trade in ivory, which was pushing this species rapidly toward extinction.  Since then, the ban has been weakened by pressure from ivory traders, and CITES allowed trade in stockpiled ivory taken from smugglers in southern Africa.  This had the immediate result of increasing poaching of elephants throughout the continent, in anticipation of a lifting of the ban.
     All rhinoceros species, two native to Africa and three to Asia, are critically endangered.  Populations of the five species together total only about 12,000 animals, a result of heavy hunting for their horns, which are used in Traditional Medicine (TM) and as handles for daggers in the Middle East (see Trade chapter).  The toll of animal species killed for meat, trade and the TM market numbers in the millions, of which a growing number are threatened. Tigers, Leopards and other wild cats, snakes, pangolins, monkeys, birds of prey, deer, seahorses, and turtles, and many other species are killed to supply this market.  The Tiger is poached throughout its range because its body parts are worth $10,000 or more when sold in this market and as trophies.  This species is killed in parts of its range by slow-acting poisons and leghold traps for trade, and predator control when it has hunted livestock after its natural prey was killed off.  Species like the Tiger, which require large territories and are suffering high mortality from hunting throughout its range, as well as loss of habitat, are in imminent danger of extinction.  Several conservation programs are attempting to stem the tide in favor of the Tiger and reduce demand for its body parts in TM.  Stricter laws are needed throughout the world, however, to protect endangered animals.  The bushmeat trade is a major threat to Central and West African mammals and a wide spectrum of species in Southeast Asia (see Persecution and Hunting chapter). 
      A thriving trade in terrarium frogs has resulted in a worldwide market for many species of these amphibians.  The world's largest frog, the Goliath Frog (Conraura goliath) of Central Africa, weighs 7.2 pounds and reaches a length of at least 32 inches; it is found along major rivers in dense tropical rainforest in Equatorial Guinea and southwest Cameroon (FWS 1991).  Throughout its range it is very rare, and it has unusual habitat requirements.  It needs rapids and cascades with sandy bottoms and very clean, oxygen-rich water; deforestation has reduced this habitat.  Collectors have offered huge sums up to $2,500 for capture and export of Goliath Frogs--as personal pets or for public exhibition.  One US dealer imported 50 of these frogs and attempted to enter them in the Frog Jump Jubilee in Calaveras County, California (FWS 1991).  The Endangered Species Act lists this species as Threatened throughout its range.  The IUCN lists it as Vulnerable on the 2000 IUCN Red List.  Hundreds of other species are collected for this trade, threatening many, including various mantella frogs of Madagascar, coveted for their golden color (See Islands chapter).
     Although more reptiles than amphibians are killed for their skins, amphibians are now also being taken in large numbers for this purpose.  In 1985, the United States imported more than 11,000 frog and toad hides and products worth $350,000 for the luxury trade in frog skin wallets, toad leather boots and other items (Fitzgerald 1989).  Most of these skins come from a large Malaysian frog (Rana macrodon), but the Black-spined Toad (Bufo melanosticus) and other species are used as well (Fitzgerald 1989).  Such products are extremely difficult to identify by species, making enforcement difficult. 
     Frogs are killed by the millions for high school biology class anatomy lessons, an unnecessary toll because computer programs and films now provide this information (see Projects section).  For the restaurant trade, frogs are killed in even greater numbers.  Indonesia and Vietnam are the major sources of frogs for restaurants and food markets in Europe and the United States.  Prior to export bans, Bangladesh and India captured many millions of frogs each year for the restaurant trade.  Several documentary films have recorded the process of removing the frogs' legs in Bangladesh and Indonesia; the same methods were used in each country.  Once captured and gathered in large containers, the frogs' back legs are sliced off with a sharp knife or machete, and the still-living frogs are tossed into heaps, where they continue to struggle for long periods before dying.  An increase in malaria was documented in Bangladesh after the frog trade caused declines in wild populations; the frogs had been controlling mosquito populations.
     The Indian Bullfrog (Rana tigerina), a species native to southern Asia, was listed on Appendix II of CITES after heavy trade depleted it.  Some of these shipments were seized:  In July 1997, a shipment from Vietnam containing the legs of 450,000 Indian Bullfrogs was intercepted in Holland as a CITES violation; the container with the frogs' legs weighed almost 20 tons and was en route to a wholesaler in Canada.  This shipment alone represented frogs from vast areas in Vietnam, depleting wetlands of these ecologically important amphibians.  Even in US National Parks, frogs are commercially hunted.  In Florida, for example, frog hunters in airboats capture millions of frogs during night hunts.  In February and March 1996, 6 tons of frogs were taken from Big Cypress National Preserve for sale to restaurants and for private consumption, according to environmental groups which have petitioned the National Park Service (NPS) to end or limit this hunt (Dodds 1996).
     The reptile product trade placed virtually all large crocodilians on the endangered list by the early 1970s after imports of millions of skins for luggage, shoes and handbags nearly caused extinctions of species in South America, Africa and Asia.  Although controlled to some degree by CITES, a large percentage of trade is illegal, composed of protected species (see Trade chapter).  The luxury trade in these products is now threatening many snakes as well as lizards, whose skins can be sold for very high prices.  These reptiles, which play important roles in nature--culling rats and other rodents and preventing overpopulations of fish--are taken from the wild.  Snakes are being captured in such numbers for this trade and for the Asian medicine and restaurant trades that they have disappeared from areas where they had been common.  (See “Endangered and Threatened Species of Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians” in the Appendix for an extensive list of these reptiles now threatened with extinction.)

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