October 13, 2008

Extinction Alert for Pangolin, Tapir

By Nisha Sabanayagam

KUALA LUMPUR: It was only a matter of time.

The gentle pangolin (Manis javanica), found in Malaysia and Thailand, is officially listed as "endangered", under threat of extinction.

So, too, the Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus).

Both animals are officially cited on the 2008 Red List of Threatened Species, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

All species of gibbon monkeys are now also "endangered", from "near threatened" last year.

The list assesses the conservation status of wildlife to highlight those threatened with extinction and therefore promote their conservation.

However, the news of the pangolin's status would probably come as no surprise to Malaysians.

Last month, the New Straits Times reported on the increasing illegal trade in pangolins; between 1998 and last year, the media reported 34 cases of pangolin smuggling and the confiscation of 6,000 specimens.

During the same period, it was estimated that more than 30,000 specimens were seized in Southeast Asia and East Asia.

It is little wonder that the species moved from the "low risk/ near-threatened" category in 1996 to "endangered" on the Red List this year.

The other gentle forest creature that shares the dubious honour with the pangolin this year - the tapir - has experienced population declines estimated to be greater than 50 per cent in the past three generations (36 years).

Found in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, the tapir is not usually hunted for its meat, nor does it suffer retaliatory attacks by villagers who compete with it for space or resources, which suggests that its decline may be attributed to habitat loss and fragmentation.

World Wide Fund For Nature Malaysia executive director/chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said that the situation warrants all stakeholders - civil society, the government, non- governmental agencies and individuals - to "go into overdrive in terms of conservation".

He said that although the IUCN Red List was based on a global population situation and was not limited to any particular country, trends such as this indicated that "we are failing in protecting these animals".

The Sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), went from "least concern" to "vulnerable" on the Red List.

"Sambar deer populations appear to have plummeted in recent years," said Sharma.

He added that the WWF-Malaysia field teams did not photograph any Sambar deer during their camera-trapping activities in Gunung Basor Forest Reserve, Kelantan, which went on for nine months; and Terengganu's Jerangau Forest Reserve, which was carried out between 2001 and 2003.

The second-largest cat in Malaysia, the leopard (Panthera pardus), has also been reclassified from "least concern" to "near threatened".

The status of the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris) remain unchanged, "critically endangered" and "endangered" respectively.

The Red List ranks species according to their population status and threat levels, which have increased for many species as a result of habitat loss and degradation, over-exploitation, pollutants and climate change.

(c) 2008 New Straits Times. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.