Asian Species at the Crossroads between Conservation and Extinction
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has released a list of Asian species at the crossroads between extinction and conservation last September 5 at the World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea.
The WCS list included the Mekong giant catfish, Asian rhinos, Asian giant river turles, tigers, orangutans, and Asian vultures. Each of these Asian species is at midpoint between irreversible extinction and conservation as they are threatened by poaching, illegal wildlife trade, and habitat destruction/loss. However, these species can be saved by timely and well-executed conservation measures especially from government efforts.
According to the report from Huffpost Green, it was only recently that two large Asian mammals succumbed to extinction: the kouprey, a type of cattle found in the wild in Southeast Asia, and the Chinese freshwater dolphin baiji.
Action must be taken to save other threatened species before they are irreversibly lost to the world as well.
Tigers are an iconic and flagship species for conservation and anti-illegal wildlife trade efforts, yet continue to be under attack. Illegally hunted for its skin, fur, and bones, conservation efforts to save the tiger is an uphill battle as the demand for tiger parts are fueled by the belief that they are potent ingredients in traditional Asian medicine. WWF released a Wildlife Crime Scorecard highlighting both the tiger and the Asian rhinos’ status together with elephants in the illegal wildlife trade. Both Vietnam and Laos among other nations are implicated as countries where major wildlife crime activities take place, whether they are origin, transit, or destination countries.
The Mekong giant catfish and the Batagur turtles are also at the crossroads of extinction because of heavy exploitation and habitat loss/destruction. The Batagur turtles are historically found in abunadant numbers in river deltas of India but are now the group closest to extinction. Five species of this turtle are critically endangered and one species endangered as they are heavily hunted for their meat and eggs. The Mekong giant catfish is a species endemic to the Mekong basin. More than 80% of its population has been reduced due to overfishing and loss of migratory routes. Dam constructions in this endemic species’ habitat may have also contributed to its decline.
Asian vultures are another species at the crossroads of extinction and conservaton. Though hardly regarded as an iconic species by many, Asian vultures play a significant part for one community in India upholding its ancient traditions. The Parsi community in India with its Zoroastrian religion relies on vultures for the traditional disposal of their dead. Because their culture views burial and cremation as polluting nature, they carry their dead to the Tower of Silence to be exposed to the sun and devoured by vultures and other lesser birds of prey. Due to the rapid decline of the vultures’ population (linked to the use of the drug diclofenac in cattle, toxix to the vultures which devoured carcasses), there have not been enough vultures to perform the ancient rite. This has caused emotional distress and raised hygienic concerns in the area. As with other species at the middle point between extinction and conservation, timely intervention can be the difference.
The WCS advocates the 3Rs approach: Recognition of the problem, taking Responsibility for its solution, and guiding efforts for the species’ path to Recovery. WCS observes that the 3Rs approach worked in saving the American bison from extinction in the past. Today this species thrives at 30,000 individuals strong in the wild.
WCS believes that governments in Asia have both the capability as well as the financial capacity to conduct conservation measures to save these species at the crossroads of extinction.
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