World Rhino Day

An insightful & thought provoking interview with a member of an anti-poaching unit

Image: Martin Meyer

It’s World Rhino Day today, a day to celebrate and raise awareness of the dangers faced by the five species of rhino. Firstly, I will admit right now that I don’t know much about rhinos, at all. As you’ll probably know, great apes are my thing, so this was an exciting opportunity for me to learn more about the beautiful animals. I thought I’d start by telling you a little bit about them, just incase you’re like me and just learning.

Palaeolithic cave art depicting a woolly rhino at Chauvet cave, around 33,000 years old. Image: tourisme-en-france.com

Going back to the beginning, rhinoceroses, or rather, their woolly conspecifics, have their origins in the Miocene, around 25 million years ago. These hairy giants roamed Africa and Eurasia and have been found depicted in Palaeolithic cave art at archaeological sites like Chauvet, dated to around 33,000 years bp. Woolly rhinos went extinct around 15,000 years ago and their remains have been found preserved in ice. At the start of the 20th century, there were thought to be around 500,000 modern rhinos on earth, fast forward to 2021 and we are faced with the shocking realisation that there are as few as 28,000 individuals left.

There are five species of rhino; Sumatran, Javan, black rhino, greater one horned rhino and the white rhino. The Javan rhino is currently the most critical with only 74 individuals left, but of course each of the species is severely under threat and there is a chance that rhinos will become extinct during our lifetime if we don’t do more. In fact, the subspecies of white rhino, the northern white rhino is already functionally extinct, with just two females surviving under 24-hour guard in Kenya. This is a heart-breaking reality and the reason why learning about rhinos and celebrating world rhino day is absolutely vital for their survival now.

Image: Martin Meyer

So, why are populations declining so rapidly? Poaching. The last decade has seen a record demand for rhino horn on the black market and to keep up with this demand, poachers have killed around 10,000 individuals in the last decade. To find out a little bit more about the dangers that the remaining rhinos are facing, I met with Jonny, an anti-poaching ranger who worked at a nature reserve in South Africa. The name of the reserve was kept private to protect the security of the rhinos, but the mission of the reserve is to protect the species they house from poaching and work to boost the population. Jonny and I had a quick chat about the work he was involved with during his time in South Africa.

The Interview

Opinions and facts in this interview are not my own.

Image: Jonny on an anti-poaching patrol.

Firstly, how did you get into rhino conservation?

I did a degree in wildlife conservation and as part of that I did some voluntary work at the reserve. I then returned once I had finished my degree to gain more experience and to try and make an active, positive difference.

Can you give me an overview about the work you were involved in and what your role entailed?

I worked directly with the anti-poaching unit, patrolling the reserve in a vehicle whilst teams worked on foot with search dogs to detect any potential trespassers on the reserve. The reserve is protected by a large perimeter fence but it’s a huge area to police and people do still manage to break in. During my time there I did have to respond to poachers. However, most of the poachers that gained entry were not armed with guns and were in fact there to hunt smaller species such as antelope, for meat.

So what are the rhino poachers looking for? And why rhino?

They’re looking for rhino horn. Rhino horn is worth around $65,000 per kilo on the black market, giving it a higher value than gold or cocaine. In Chinese medicine, it’s believed horn can cure all sorts from typhoid to hallucinations, but it’s now increasingly common for it to just be displayed as a very expensive status symbol. The poachers have no thought for the animals suffering, they literally hack the horn off at the ‘root’ and leave the animal to die a very slow, painful death.

(At this point, Jonny showed me some harrowing video footage of a rhino who had been murdered for her horn, that image will stay with me forever.).

So what is this particular reserve doing to try and stop this?

The reserve practices ‘horn trimming’. (I looked into this controversial practice which seems common among reserves in several African countries). The rhino is put under a light sedation and it’s horn is trimmed by trained professionals. The horn is like human hair and nails, it’s made of keratin and grows continuously, this process causes no harm to the rhinos at all but I understand why people question it (animal welfare activists argue against unnecessary distress for the animal in question). The horns are then transported to secure locations, far away from the reserve. It’s a really expensive process which is why a lot of the national reserves can’t afford to do it, they tend to have more animals to look after and it requires equipment, time, staff, funding, that the national parks just can’t do.

Image: Rhino darted for treatment after sustaining a gunshot wound from a poacher, Martin Meyer

What is the point in horn trimming? Can’t they just work to protect the rhinos through guards and anti-poaching patrols?

Poachers are very determined, no matter what levels of security are in place. The idea is to deter. By performing this painless procedure on the rhinos, the idea is that the poachers will not try and break into the reserve for a horn that is maybe a third of the size of a full horn. Unfortunately sometimes they will still break onto the reserves in order to hack off the remaining horn and growth plate.

So what are these reserves in South Africa doing to try and stop the unnecessary murder of these beautiful animals?

Well, it might surprise you, (it did surprise me) ¸to know that there are organisations within South Africa that are fighting to legalise the international trade in rhino horn. It’s currently illegal to trade internationally but legal within South Africa. (Jonny clearly saw my puzzled expression and quickly worked to explain the idea). The reason that rhino horn is seen as such a status symbol is because it’s a banned product. The idea being that having a rhino horn which is potentially worth over a million USD, shows high status. But, if you were to legalise the trade of rhino horn then this would immediately lower the value of it and reduce the demand for poaching, with the view to eliminate poaching totally of course. There are lots of reserves who practice horn trimming and who have huge amounts stored in secure vaults. If the international ban was lifted, these organisations could coordinate to flood the market with this ethically sourced horn and bring the value crashing down. The money traded on the black market goes into the hands on criminal organisations who are making a wild profit out of the senseless killing of rhinos, if the ban was lifted then the money could go back into the reserves and straight back into the conservation effort. The mission is to essentially buy whatever time we can for the animals to rebuild their populations, while the people in positions of power agree on what we can do to secure their future.

That’s certainly a lot to think about, it’s clearly a complex issue and I’ll definitely be reading more about it. Thanks so much for meeting with me today, do you have any advice for any people who may be interested in pursuing a career in conservation?

Aside from the educational part, degrees etc, I’d just recommend putting yourself out there and getting as much experience under your belt as possible. A varied skill set is so useful in this line of work and you can do this by approaching organisations and volunteering for as much as possible.

Image: Martin Meyer

Final thoughts

Getting the chance to interview Jonny was a brilliant insight into the world of rhino conservation. As I said at the beginning of this, I don’t know a lot about rhinos and it’s clear that like with every aspect of conservation, it’s a very complex and dangerous situation. There is a lot of work being done to fight against the needless suffering of thousands of animals and to preserve them. But there is still a long way to go. I have done a lot of research into the horn trimming practice and the issues discussed in this interview, and I will leave a selection of sources in the ‘further reading’ section at the bottom. Perhaps when I have collected my thoughts in a coherent manner, I will write a post about my own thoughts and a more detailed discussion on this complicated and challenging issue!

For now it remains to say, Happy World Rhino Day, use this day as an opportunity to learn about the beautiful giants, and about how we must work now to protect them for generations to come.

Image: Savetherhino.org

Further reading:

International Rhino Foundation (rhinos.org)

Rhino Species | Learn | Save the Rhino International

Rhino | Species | WWF (worldwildlife.org)

Horn trimming rhinos in South Africa – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian

Rhino Horn Trimming: Conservation’s Expensive Haircut – Conservation With Kate (conservationkate.co.uk)

A legal trade in rhino horn | Thorny Issue | Save the Rhino International

A special huge thanks to Martin Meyer, a South African based photographer with a passion for wildlife conservation, for allowing me to use his beautiful images. Visit https://www.martinmeyerwild.com/ to see more of his amazing work.

Instagram @martinmeyer_wild

World Chimpanzee Day

61 years ago today, an inspirational, ambitious young woman entered Gombe National Park to begin pioneering observational research, providing us with an up-close insight into the lives of our closest living relatives. This woman, of course, Dr Jane Goodall, dedicated her life to chimpanzees and today on World Chimpanzee Day, I want to tell you more about some incredible humans working tirelessly to save and protect the species and tell you why we should all be working together to secure a future for chimpanzees. 

Why chimpanzees?

I suppose the main reason I am so passionate about a career in conservation comes from my childhood. I spent my life surrounded by animals, appreciating the beauty of our planet and everything it has to offer. It wasn’t until later in life that I started to pay more attention to the damage we are doing to our only home and the price we and every other being on earth are paying for the continuing behaviour of our own species.

But why chimpanzees? That’s a different, perhaps slightly odd story so let me tell you. I fell pregnant when I was in my early 20s, it wasn’t planned, I had never considered having children and yet here I was, laying in a hospital bed after 70 hours of labour, exhausted but with this tiny baby in my arms.

First time mum, exhausted and overwhelmed, with a little fluffy headed newborn.

I felt an overwhelming need to protect this tiny human that I had only just met. My son was in hospital for a little while after birth and that gave me a lot of time to think. I started thinking about my own newly developed maternal bond with this person and it got me thinking about the connection other mothers, non-human mothers, feel with their babies. I had read a lot about chimpanzees and bonobos already as they have always been a source of fascination and wonder for me, but suddenly I felt myself looking at this subject of parenting from a totally different perspective. I was suddenly seeing the world from a new angle and in that moment I knew I wanted to know more. So of course I got to reading up on the subject (you have a lot of opportunity to do night time research during those first few months of having a baby) and my reading took me around many academic papers about chimpanzee parenting until I eventually started stumbling upon literature on the horrifying illegal wildlife trade (which I will expand upon shortly), it was in that moment I knew I couldn’t stand back with this new knowledge and do nothing about it. But at the time, I didn’t know what I could do. 

Fast forward a few years to 2020, sitting on the sofa watching a new BBC documentary called ‘Baby Chimp Rescue’ where Professor Ben Garrod was at a chimpanzee sanctuary in Liberia, working with the team to teach the young chimps how to ‘be chimps’.

 As I watched more of the documentary I found myself totally in awe of Jenny and Jimmy Desmond for the work they and the caregivers at the sanctuary were doing to secure a future for these chimpanzees and I knew I needed to be involved in whatever capacity I could. So I reached out to Ben and by some miracle am now about to start working with him and another wonderful researcher, Dr Alex Georgiev, on a masters by research focusing on great ape conservation and science engagement, everything I have dreamt of! Thanks to Ben, I have had the absolute pleasure of connecting with Jenny and Jimmy Desmond and they have kindly allowed me to write this blog post to tell you a little bit about Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection in the hope that I can reach someone who maybe doesn’t know about the dangers faced by our closest relatives and by reading this, may be inspired like I was, to act.

Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection

Image: LCRP logo

My aim in writing this with Jenny and Jimmy is to highlight the sadness surrounding these babies and how the work of sanctuaries such as LCRP is vital for the future of the species and what we can all do to support them. But I don’t want to bombard you with statistics and intangible information, I want you, the reader, to connect with the stories of the residents of LCRP in the same way I have, with that powerful force known as compassion which has the power to change the world. 

Image: Jenny and Jimmy Desmond with Dr Jane Goodall and Princess, LCRP, 2020.

You can find out more about the work LCRP are doing here, but LCRP is a sanctuary in Liberia which has taken in and cared for over 70 chimpanzees, many of whom are infants under 5 years old. LCRP work together with local people and the Liberian government to track down those working in the illegal ‘exotic’ pet and bushmeat trade, in fact LCRP has been instrumental in the formation of Liberia’s first Wildlife Confiscation Unit (WCU) which has now evolved into the much bigger Wildlife Crime Task Force (WCTF) and as a result, more and more individual chimpanzees are being saved from a miserable life as a ‘pet’. As I said earlier, instead of listing stats here, I am going to tell you about a particular chimpanzee whose story made me realise exactly what these tiny, vulnerable babies have been through in their short lives. A ‘case study’ if you like to call it that, I prefer to call it a story of resilience and hope.

Image: Gaia*, LCRP, 2019.

Meet Gaia. Featured in ‘Baby Chimp Rescue’, her story particularly resonated with me. Gaia was just a few weeks old when she fell into the loving arms of Jenny and Jimmy after being found by a tourist who realised the person selling her was committing an awful crime. We don’t know how Gaia came to be in the hands of the person trying to sell another being’s life, but we can unfortunately guess based on what we know about countless other chimpanzees who are suffering in the same way. The most likely scenario is that Gaia’s mother was murdered, while she still clung to her and, too young to realise what was happening, she would have been forcefully dragged from her mothers body, away from everything a young baby needs to survive. Watching the footage of this newborn baby reduced me to tears then (and did again when I rewatched it a minute ago) but not just because of the sadness and tragedy surrounding her. I connected with this story because, when watching the footage of Gaia, too young to lift her own head, no teeth yet, entirely dependent on her mother for food, warmth and protection, all I could see was images of my own baby. Facial expressions Gaia was pulling, small noises she was making, all I could do was imagine my own child in that situation and that broke my heart into a million pieces.


Infants, human and non-human need touch and there is plentiful evidence to show the negative impact caused by a lack of this essential physical contact. Ape infants (don’t forget humans are apes too) who do not receive this care are likely to show what is known as ‘stereotypies’, abnormal behaviours as a response to stress. These behaviours can include rocking and self soothing and are devastating to witness. I think it is very easy (and a lot of people do it, I will admit now that I used to) to forget that humans are animals and all animals have a connection with their offspring. In some species it’s a purely ‘chemical’ connection, such as in mice who’s maternal bonds vanish the moment their young wean, but in others, like apes, the bond goes much deeper. Apes are altricial which means they rely heavily on their mothers and other members of their social group for protection and survival. Like humans, chimpanzees stay with their mothers for many years, learning the vital skills needed to be a chimp! 

Without the care of her biological mother, LCRP had to step in to ensure Gaia had a fighting chance at a healthy future both physically and mentally and took on the role, carrying this tiny baby 24/7 and doing everything not only a chimpanzee mother would do, but what I did with my own babies. With the help of LCRP, Gaia is now a thriving young chimpanzee, meeting her milestones and spending her days climbing with her adopted brothers and sisters. 

Image: Gaia, a happy and healthy young chimpanzee*, LCRP, 2020.

There is so much I want to tell you about LCRP, their work inspires me every single day so it was difficult to decide exactly what to write about in this short blog post. I hope that reading just a little about this one particular chimpanzee, you can see there is so much more to this story than just an animal being taken in by a sanctuary. Young chimpanzees like Gaia who would be with their mothers 24/7 need round the clock care, they need the right balance of nutrients and vitamins, they need physical and emotional support and without people like Jenny and Jimmy, Gaia and many other babies would have been living a miserable life right now, maybe chained outside the home of someone who bought them as a ‘pet’ or ending up as another statistic in the fight against the illegal bushmeat trade. 


What can we do?

Although we can all agree it’s a miracle that Gaia is now living a happy life at LCRP, soon to be exploring the forests everyday in the newly constructed natural habitat, enabling her to live an ‘as close to natural’ life as possible – the fact that Gaia is there is a tragedy. Gaia’s presence at LCRP is a reminder that a mother was murdered and a baby taken away.

I have discussed the illegal wildlife trade in my previous blog post so please if you have time, read this to familiarise yourself with how you can help join the fight against the industry. But for this blog I just want to bring to your attention one thing that keeps cropping up time and time again. Right now mother’s are being murdered and their babies will not be fortunate enough to end up in Jenny’s loving arms. You may see that baby on Youtube, on a Tik Tok video, or across social media. Your friends might tag you in it to look at the ‘cute pet’. Well what if I told you that every tag, every comment, every ‘like’ on an image of a chimpanzee performing for the camera is an act in support of the illegal wildlife trade. Every positive reaction fuels the demand for chimpanzees (and other wild animals) to be torn from their natural habitats in the name of human entertainment and greed. The best things we as individuals can do are:

  1. Don’t engage with images and videos of chimpanzees in unnatural contexts. Be aware of the context of the content and if you feel something is not right, report it as animal abuse or harmful content and do not react to it. The less ‘likes’ these posts receive, the less demand there will be for ‘exotic’ animals.
  2. Engage with the right kind of content. Share the great work that conservation organisations and sanctuaries such as LCRP are doing. Use the disclaimers* provided to inform your audience of the dangers of sharing content which displays animal abuse. 
  3. Comment. Okay so I know I said don’t engage, and there are some negatives to commenting on this kind of content, of course any kind of engagement boosts the chances of the post being seen by a wider audience. BUT that doesn’t mean we can’t still have an impact. By commenting and calling out the content creators there is a chance that the wider audience will see your comment and be less likely to share and engage themselves thus reducing the demand. The Ape Alliance has a brilliant article on this which includes some polite but assertive examples of what you can say to deter audiences from engaging. 

My message to you

Image: Jenny and some of the young chimps on their way to explore the Hundred Acre Wood*, LCRP, 2020.

It’s World Chimpanzee Day, a day to celebrate our closest living relatives, but also a chance to raise awareness of the suffering that is happening now. I connected so strongly with the accounts of the chimpanzees at LCRP because behind their eyes I could see the sadness and tragedy and I felt, as a mother, the heartbreak and the reality of what is happening. Despite efforts of conservationists around the world, the suffering is still occurring and right now somewhere, a baby is being taken away from their mother and will not make it to a safe place like LCRP. But the point here is that ending up at LCRP to live out their lives shouldn’t be a consideration. These beautiful animals, like all wild animals, should be afforded the right to live freely in their own natural environments, to continue to thrive and survive as they have done for millions of years. As well as being an aspiring science engager and conservationist, I am an archaeologist. My undergraduate dissertation focused archaeology and primatology crossing over to teach us about where our species came from. Dr Jane Goodall paved the way for generations of researchers to learn from our wild cousins. We have learnt so much in 61 years, but there is so much still to discover and if we don’t act now then we will lose the opportunity to understand more about these complex and fascinating animals, losing the chance to uncover more about where we started with our last common ancestor. We humans do not have the authority to dictate which beings survive and who does not. We have to remember that we are part of nature. We, as a species, are forgetting that and unless we act now, nature will cease to exist. 


Further sources:

  • If you haven’t yet, then please watch the BBC documentary which tells you all about the story of LCRP so far.
  • World Chimpanzee day
  • Chimpanzee and me‘, Professor Ben Garrod’s brilliant book which tells of Ben’s journey with chimps, the dangers faced and how we can act. Also available in audiobook format for those of you like me who can’t sit still for long enough to read a book.

*LCRP Disclaimer: Chimpanzees are not and should not be pets or forced to live with humans.The chimpanzee orphans at LCRP’s sanctuary in West Africa are victims of the bushmeat and illegal pet trade. Their mothers were tragically killed by poachers and require around the clock care. Thanks to the dedicated caregivers and staff, the orphans are being rehabilitated so that they will be able to thrive with others in a natural and safe environment when they’re older. Please support LCRP’s mission to rescue chimpanzees in need and keep wild chimps wild

International Polar Bear Day

Artwork by Jessica Peto – check out more of Jessica’s amazing work on Twitter @jessrpeto

Rider of Icebergs, The Ice Bear, The Seal’s Dread. These are all names used to refer to Ursus maritimus, or more commonly known as the polar bear. Perfectly adapted to a life of extreme weather conditions in one of the world’s most challenging environments, the polar bear is thought to share a last common ancestor with the brown bear that lived around 400,000 years ago. The polar bear has become perfectly adapted to life in the cold, with small ears to reduce potential heat loss and thick fur to cover layers of heat retaining fat. Traces of polar bear have been found in the brown bear genome suggesting an episode of interbreeding after the two species split.

I won’t lie, I know nothing about polar bears. I’ve seen a polar bear ‘up close’ at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park – whoever thought there would be polar bears in Doncaster? But apart from the basics I have no knowledge of the majestic Arctic giant. So I thought as it’s International Polar Bear Day today, I could use this as an opportunity to teach myself about them and tell you all a little about polar bears and the threats they are facing today.

Source: Wildlife Conservation Network

As I mentioned, each part of the polar bears anatomy is has adapted perfectly to combat challenges in their environment. An adult male can weigh over a whopping 800kg and females around half that size. You would think an animal of such enormous weight would risk cracking the icy terrain they traverse daily, but this of course is not the case. When crossing patches of thin ice, the polar bear lowers it’s body closer to the ground by spreading the legs further apart, distributing the weight over a larger surface area. Think about that scene when Bambi slid across the ice, legs everywhere, but a lot more precise and purposeful. Their big paws can measure 11 inches across and the black pads are covered in bumps which help them to grip the ice. The sizable paws act as swimming aids in the water, the front paws as paddles and the back paws as rudders, steering the bears through the water in pursuit of prey. Polar bears can be found in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Canada and Russia. Their sea ice homes are forever moving and changing meaning the bears have huge ranging distances and no territorial boundaries, most bear seems to have a ‘home range’ of several hundred miles though as you can expect, tracing and tagging a polar bear is quite tricky.

Now we know a bit more about polar bears, let’s explore some of the threats facing these beautiful animals and what we can all do to help polar bear conservation. The earth is heating up, extreme climate events are becoming more and more frequent and are likely to become more damaging for everyone, the longer we go without acting. It’s true the world goes through climatic phases, but the problem is we have spent the last 200 years burning through fossil fuels, creating a huge increase in greenhouse gasses. Imagine putting a foil emergency blanket around you, hugging a hot water bottle and not allowing any heat to escape. Feeling warm? That’s how the planet feels right now and it’s getting hotter. Alongside the increase of greenhouse gasses, we are chopping down trees at an alarming rate, destroying huge areas of rainforests. What does that have to do with polar bears I hear you ask? Well, trees soak up excess carbon dioxide and that is one of the greenhouse gasses I’ve been talking about, so the more deforestation that takes place, the less trees there are to help soak up the damage we have created. So not only are we increasing the greenhouse gasses, we are removing one of our opportunities to clean up the air! Sounds crazy when you put it simply like that doesn’t it? What are we doing?!

Source: Polar Bears International

So back to polar bears – the IUCN (you heard about them in the World Pangolin Day post) have listed the polar bear as vulnerable and it’s estimated there are around 23,000 individuals in the wild. The abrupt peak in Artic temperatures resulting in a dramatic decrease in sea ice is reported as the single most dangerous threat to the species. So why can’t polar bears just move inland as the sea ice shrinks? Well it’s not that easy. Imagine if land, say England where I am currently, began shrinking. There would quickly be less space, less food, more competition and more stress on the individuals that depend on the land. And it’s exactly the same for polar bears. They live, hunt, breed and depend on the ice to live. The more ice shrinks, the more polar bears are forced to travel further out of their home range in order to find food. Polar bears stock up their fat supplies during the summer months and if they are having to swim and walk further to find limited resources, the result is malnourished bears, unable to survive the winter months, unable to breed efficiently, unable to thrive as a species. To lose polar bears would have a huge knock on effect. Polar bears are apex predators and contribute to limiting the Arctic seal populations. If polar bears disappeared, seals would quickly overpopulate the region, eating all the fish that are usually a food source for other wildlife and local human populations. Scavengers such as the Arctic foxes and birds depend on the hunting behaviours of the polar bear, so do you see how losing one species would have such a huge knock on effect on the whole Arctic ecosystem? Not to mention how devastating it would be to lose another animal because of the actions of humans. The species is also under threat from direct human action of course. A reduction in sea ice is forcing polar bears to look for food in other places, including places where humans live. I’m sure you can guess what humans do when they see a huge polar bear entering their town. It’s reported that there has been a 600% increase in the shooting of ‘problem bears’ from 1991 – 2012. Polar bears are hunted for their fur and meat however in most cases, the hunts are governed by yearly quotas and suggestions are made about how to hunt sustainably. Despite the recommendations, polar bear skins are still exported in their hundreds in the form of rugs and even taxidermied bears which are seen as a status symbol. Despite a decline in demand in some parts of the world, others are seeing a steady increase but the USA made the importation of skins illegal as soon as the species hit the IUCN list.

Photo credit: Hans-Jurgen Mager

What can we do about it then? Well, we are causing the problems so it’s up to us to do something about it. Of course addressing the issues surrounding the hunting of polar bears is vital – there must be a crack down on companies who are exploiting the polar bear populations to meet the global demand for fur items to increase and show off their social status. There is a lot to be learnt from communities who have lived alongside the polar bear for thousands of years and who have an in depth understanding of their changing behaviour, population, migration patterns and sustainability. As previously mentioned, climate change continues to be the main threat to polar bears today, we can collectively help in the push for change by being conscious about our carbon footprint and reducing this – I will be publishing a blog post specifically about our carbon footprint soon so stay tuned! It goes without saying that reducing and reversing the process of deforestation and making the planet greener (literally) will help to suck up all that carbon dioxide and reduce emissions that are lingering in the air and suffocating our beautiful Earth. Finally, as always, you can do your bit by learning about endangered species, telling your friends about them, signing petitions to pressure governments to act and donating to the wonderful polar bear conservation organisations who do fantastic work to promote and preserve the lives of these incredible beings for many years to come. It’s predicted there will be a 30% decline in populations by 2050. It’s up to all of us now.

For more information and to get involved in polar bear conservation, please visit:
Get Involved – Polar Bears International
Top 10 facts about polar bears | WWF
Should polar bear hunting be legal? It’s complicated. (nationalgeographic.com)
Adopt a Polar Bear | WWF
Ursus maritimus (Polar Bear) (iucnredlist.org)

World Pangolin Day

Image by Jessica Peto. Find more art by Jessica on Twitter @jessrpeto

A short survey of friends and family showed that most people didn’t have a clue what a pangolin is. If they had heard of a pangolin, it was in relation to Covid-19. It is suggested that Covid-19 originated in wet markets where animals, wild and domesticated, are sold for human consumption. Today is World Pangolin Day so I wanted to take the opportunity, as a wildlife communicator, to share some facts about the elusive animals and discuss why it is so important to speak about them.

It may surprise you to know that there are actually eight species of pangolins. The White-bellied, Black-bellied, Giant Ground and Temminck’s Ground pangolins all live in Africa while the Indian, Philippine, Chinese and Sunda pangolins are found in Asia. Most are terrestrial but some live in trees. Pangolins are relatives of the bear, cat and dog despite their nickname – scaly armadillo.

Pangolins are insect-eating mammals, with their diet being predominately made up of termites and ants and they can eat a whopping 70 million insects per year. Imagine how many insects there would be if there were no pangolins! They use their amazing sense of smell to locate insect nests and their sticky tongues, which can be over 40cm long, to scoop up their prey. Pangolins are the only truly scaly mammal and their scales are made out of the same material as our skin, fingernails and hair, keratin. When born, the scales are soft but they quickly harden up and create a brilliant defensive barrier, protecting them from predators.

Source: WWF

Despite four pangolin species being placed on the IUCN list of critically endangered animals, and being protected by national and international law, Asia has seen an 80% decline in the pangolin population over the last ten years, leading wildlife traffickers to turn their attention to African pangolins instead. Pangolins are hunted for their meat which is considered to be a delicacy, and for their scales which are used frequently in traditional medicines to treat conditions from asthma to arthritis, even though they have been removed from the list of approved medical ingredients. Scales are also found in the fashion industry being used to make boots, bags and items of clothing. Their defensive strategy of rolling into a tight ball when threatened instead of running makes them an easy target for poachers and their scales, unlike ivory, can be transported discreetly in small quantities and even in pockets and luggage.

A rescued pangolin pup on the way to a sanctuary. Source: Paul Hilton BBC Earth

It is thought that over a million pangolins have been trafficked over the last decade, with the biggest discovery to date being in April 2019 when two 14 ton shipments of scales were seized in Singapore with a value of around $30million. In light of the pandemic, China has moved to ban the consumption of wild animal meat and other countries are looking at taking similar decisions, but the demand for these animals is still high and pangolins are still being poached and trafficked. What is needed now is pressure from the global community to tighten law enforcement. Traffickers have access to the whole world through social media and online advertisement, and there needs to be a crack down on these criminals using the internet to broaden their opportunities to exploit these beautiful animals. In March 2020, it was reported that 3.3 million listings had been blocked or removed but there is still work to be done.

Source: Savepangolins.org

So what can we do to help? The first step is to raise awareness of the species. As mentioned previously, a lot of people haven’t even heard of a pangolin. By raising awareness of the dangers faced by all pangolin species, we can contribute to the global push to end the illegal wildlife trafficking industry which affects so many animals every year. Social media, despite it’s flaws, has a lot of potential – share information you find about trafficked species, tell your friends what you have learnt about wildlife trafficking, sign petitions lobbying governments to tighten laws on the consumption and trade of wild animals, donate to sanctuaries and organisation’s fighting trafficking and by doing so we can collectively work to end suffering.

Hard to swallow – approximately 4000 individuals in one of the largest seizures of pangolins. Images like this are hard to look at I know, but without seeing the reality of what is going on, it is easy to ignore the crisis. Source: Paul Hilton BBC Earth

We only have one Planet Earth. There is no planet B. The trafficking of all species, not just pangolins, plays a part in the spread of zoonotic diseases. The more habitat we destroy and the more we exploit non-human inhabitants of this beautiful planet, the more we risk further outbreaks of new diseases. If we don’t stop and change our actions then I’m sure we can expect more global emergencies. We need to work together now before it is too late. I speak to countless people who simply do not care about other animals and the actions that humans are taking to destroy the planet, they ignorantly think that it does not directly affect them. But of course it does and we can and must change the minds of these people and make them see the damage we are all contributing to. We do not own this planet and we must stop acting like we do.

My message to you all.

For more information and to find out how we can help in the fight against pangolin trafficking please visit the following sources:
The fight to stop pangolin extinction | Stories | WWF (worldwildlife.org)
Conservation – Save Pangolins
African Pangolin Working Group – Conservation on a different scale
BBC – Earth – Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked mammal
International trade and trafficking in pangolins, 1900–2019 – ScienceDirect
Please Help Pangolins | Fauna & Flora International (fauna-flora.org)

Please feel free to share this simple infographic – in doing so we can help conserve these beautiful animals together