In most of its habitats, the heavily trafficked pangolin’s biggest threat comes from humans. But in Taiwan, the scaly mammals brave a different danger: a surging feral dog population.
Veterinarian Tseng Shao-tung, 28, has seen firsthand what a dog can do to the gentle creatures during his shifts at a hospital in Hsinchu.
Last month he worked to save the life of a male juvenile pangolin who had been lying in the wild for days with half of its tail chewed off.
“It has a big open wound on its tail and its body tissue has decayed,” Tseng said as he carefully turned the sedated pangolin to disinfect the gaping injury.
It was the fifth pangolin Tseng and his fellow veterinarians had saved this year, all from suspected dog attacks.
Chief veterinarian Chen Yi-ru said she had noticed a steady increase of pangolins with trauma injuries in the last five years — most of them with severed tails.
Pangolins are covered in hard, overlapping body scales and curl up into a ball when attacked. The tail is the animal’s most vulnerable part.
“That’s why when attacked, the tail is usually the first to be bitten,” Chen explained.
Wildlife researchers and officials said dog attacks, which account for more than half of all injuries since 2018, have become “the main threat to pangolins in Taiwan” in a report released last year.
Most trafficked mammal
Pangolins are described by conservationists as the world’s most trafficked mammal, with traditional Chinese medicine being the main driver.
Although their scales are made of keratin — the substance that makes up our fingernails and hair — there is huge demand for them among Chinese consumers because of the unproven belief that they help lactation in breastfeeding mothers.
That demand has decimated pangolin populations across Asia and Africa despite a global ban and funded a lucrative international black market trade.
All eight species of pangolins on both continents are listed as endangered or critically endangered.
Taiwan has been a comparative conservation success story, transforming itself from a place where pangolins went from near-extinct to protected and thriving.
Chan Fang-tse, veterinarian and researcher at the official Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute, said the 1950s to 1970s saw massive hunting.
“Sixty thousand pangolins in Taiwan were killed for their scales and hides during that period,” he told AFP.
A 1989 wildlife protection law ended the industry, while rising conservation awareness led the public to start embracing their scaly neighbours as something to be cherished, rather than a commodity.
The population of the Formosan or Taiwanese pangolin, a subspecies of the Chinese pangolin, has since bounced back with researchers estimating that there are now between 10,000 to 15,000 in the wild.
But the island’s growing feral dog population — itself a consequence of a 2017 government policy not to cull stray animals — is hitting pangolins hard, Chan warned.
“Pangolins are most affected because they have a big overlap of roaming area and pangolins don’t move as fast as other animals,” Chan said.
Pangolins are also vulnerable because of how few offspring they have.
The solitary Formosan pangolins mate once a year and only produce one offspring after 150 days of pregnancy. Captivity breeding programmes have had little success.
“It may be more difficult to breed pangolins than pandas,” Chan said.
The rise in injured pangolins has created another challenge for animal doctors: finding enough ants and termites to feed the picky eaters who often reject substitute mixtures of larvae.
Piling into a truck with three other vets, Tseng headed to a tree to retrieve an ant nest he had recently spotted.
“We have to be constantly on the lookout and go search for ants nests every couple of days now because we have more pangolins to feed,” Tseng said.
A pangolin can eat an ant nest the size of a football each day.
The government has also called for residents to report nest locations to help feed the pangolins until they can be released back into the wild.
But the injured pangolin in Tseng’s care will likely have to be sent to a zoo or government facility for adoption after it recovers.
“It will have difficulty climbing up trees and won’t be able to roll itself into a ball shape,” Tseng said.
“It has lost the ability to protect itself in the wild.”
Monkeypox to be renamed mpox: WHO
Monkeypox is to be renamed mpox, the World Health Organization announced Monday, in a bid to avoid stigmatisation stemming from the existing name.
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
A surge in monkeypox infections has been reported since early May among men who have sex with men, outside the African countries where it has long been endemic.
“When the outbreak of monkeypox expanded earlier this year, racist and stigmatising language online, in other settings and in some communities was observed and reported to WHO,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
“Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term ‘mpox’ as a synonym for monkeypox. Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out.”
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread among humans since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African nations.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world.
The WHO triggered its highest level of alarm on July 24, classifying it as a public health emergency of international concern, alongside COVID-19.
More than 80,000 cases
Some 81,107 confirmed cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year, from 110 countries.
Where the given dataset was known, 97 percent were men, with a median age of 34 years old; 85 percent identified as men who had sex with men, according to the WHO’s case dashboard.
The 10 most affected countries globally are: the United States (29,001), Brazil (9,905), Spain (7,405), France (4,107), Colombia (3,803), Britain (3,720), Germany (3,672), Peru (3,444), Mexico (3,292), and Canada (1,449). They account for 86 percent of the global number of cases.
A total of 588 cases were reported last week. Over the past four weeks, 92 percent of cases were reported from the Americas and six percent from Europe.
Seventy-one countries have reported no new cases in the past 21 days.
It is down to the WHO to assign names to diseases, as it did with Covid-19.
The WHO announced in August it was looking for a new name for the virus, seeking suggestions from experts, countries and the public.
According to WHO best practices in disease naming adopted in 2015, names should aim to minimise unnecessary negative impact.
Considerations include scientific appropriateness, pronounceability, and usability in different languages.
“WHO will adopt the term mpox in its communications, and encourages others to follow these recommendations, to minimise any ongoing negative impact of the current name,” it said.
The one-year transition is to avoid confusion caused by changing the name in the midst of a global outbreak.
World’s largest volcano erupts in Hawaii
The world’s largest active volcano burst into life for the first time in 40 years, spewing lava and hot ash Monday in a spectacular display of nature’s fury by Mauna Loa in Hawaii.
Rivers of molten rock could be seen high up on the volcano, venting huge clouds of steam and smoke at the summit on Big Island, and sparking warnings the situation could change rapidly.
Pressure has been building at Mauna Loa for years, according to the United States Geological Survey, which reported the eruption could be seen from 45 miles (72 kilometers) away, in the town of Kona the west coast of Hawaii’s main island.
The eruption, which began shortly before midnight Sunday, was initially contained within the caldera — the concave area at the top of the volcano — but vulcanologists said Monday lava was now escaping from cracks in its side.
“The eruption of Mauna Loa has migrated from the summit to the Northeast Rift Zone where fissures are feeding several lava flows,” the USGS said on its website.
The agency said there was currently no threat to people living below the eruption zone, but warned that the volcano was volatile.
“Based on past events, the early stages of a Mauna Loa rift zone eruption can be very dynamic, and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly.”
Experts also cautioned that winds could carry volcanic gas and fine ash downslope, as well as Pele’s Hair — the name given to fine strands of volcanic glass formed when lava skeins cool quickly in the air.
Named after Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, the strands can be very sharp and pose potential danger to skin and eyes.
Authorities in Hawaii have not issued any evacuation orders, although the summit area and several roads in the region were closed, and two shelters have been opened as a precaution.
An ashfall advisory has been issued downwind of the volcano, with a light accumulation of ash expected on ships in ocean waters along the Big Island’s southeast.
Vulcanologist Robin George Andrews said the eruption had originally been contained, but was now spreading.
“Oof. Lava is now erupting from fresh vents on the slopes along Mauna Loa’s Northeast Rift Zone, or NERZ. That brings a new hazardous dimension to the eruption,” he wrote on Twitter.
“The fact that it is a hazardous mountain that hasn’t erupted since 1984 — the longest eruptive pause in its recorded history — is why we should all keep an eye on it.”
But Andrews predicted that unless the lava flow rate picks up dramatically, the city of Hilo to the northeast, home to about 44,000 people, “will be okay.”
The largest volcano on Earth by volume, Mauna Loa, whose name means “Long Mountain,” covers half of the Big Island and is larger than the rest of the Hawaiian islands combined.
The volcano’s submarine flanks stretch for miles to an ocean floor that is in turn depressed by Mauna Loa’s great mass — making its summit some 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) above its base, according to the USGS.
One of six active volcanoes on the Hawaiian islands, Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843.
Its most recent eruption, in 1984, lasted 22 days and produced lava flows which reached to within about seven kilometers (four miles) of Hilo.
Kilauea, a volcano on the southeastern flank of Mauna Loa, erupted almost continuously between 1983 and 2019, and a minor eruption there has been ongoing for months.
Great Barrier Reef risks ‘in danger’ World Heritage listing
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef should be added to a list of “in danger” World Heritage sites, according to UN experts who have warned the fading wonder has been “significantly impacted” by climate change.
A UNESCO-tasked report on Monday said that warming seas and agricultural pollution had put the reef at risk, and that its resilience had been “substantially compromised”.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s premier tourist drawcards, and putting it on the in-danger list could substantially tarnish its international allure.
After intense lobbying, Australia’s previous conservative government managed to keep the reef off the list in the summer of 2021.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society said the reef supported 60,000 jobs and generated Aus$6 billion ($4 billion) in revenue every year.
Australia’s Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek conceded the reef was under threat, but said putting it on UNESCO’s “World Heritage in Danger” list would be a step too far.
“We’ll clearly make the point to UNESCO that there is no need to single the Great Barrier Reef out in this way,” she told reporters.
“If this World Heritage Site is in danger, then most World Heritage Sites around the world are in danger from climate change.”
World Wildlife Fund spokesman Richard Leck said the UNESCO recommendations should be accepted by the government.
“These UNESCO recommendations are a reminder it is our choice to give the world’s most iconic reef the best chance of survival.”
The latest report, from experts at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and UNESCO, acknowledged Australia’s commitment to protecting the reef.
But it found that despite the “unparalleled science and management efforts”, the reef still faced “considerable pressures” linked to climate change and pollution from agricultural runoff.
Australia reported in May that 91 percent of the reef’s coral had been damaged by bleaching after a prolonged summer heatwave.
It was the first time on record the reef had suffered bleaching during a La Nina weather cycle, when cooler ocean temperatures would normally be expected.
Conservative prime minister Scott Morrison was voted out earlier this year in favour of a centre-left government promising greener policies and greater climate action.
A UNESCO spokesperson told AFP that “a constructive dialogue is ongoing with the current government”.
To be included on UNESCO’s world heritage list, a site must have “outstanding universal value”.
A spot on the list usually means boosted tourism, and improved access to funds and scientific expertise.
Only three sites have ever been dropped from the heritage list completely.
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