Narwhals frolic in the frigid North Atlantic.Corbis
The poaching of charismatic species, such as elephants, gorillas, rhinos and tigers, gets the public's attention in the press. But they're not the only animals in danger. The following 10 animals also face poaching threats, although they don't always make it into the spotlight.
For centuries, narwhal tusks have been expensive luxury items. Viking traders marketed the tusks as unicorn horns to Europeans during the Middle Ages. Now, only indigenous groups, such as the Inuit, can legally hunt the whales. But laws don't stop poachers. Two Tennessee men recently pleaded guilty to trafficking more than 100 narwhal tusks worth between $1.5 and 2.1 million, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The high-priced tusk is actually the narwhal's left canine. Normally, only males grow this tooth, which can reach 8 feet long or more. Narwhals use their nerve-filled tusks as a sensory organ and to communicate. Along with poachers, climate change threatens the whales because the animals depend on thick pack ice in the Atlantic Arctic. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the narwhal as “Near Threatened.”
Many giant-eyed, two-tongued, venomous primates known as slow lorises die in squalid conditions.Dan Bennett, Wikimedia Commons
Giant-eyed, two-tongued, venomous primates known as slow lorises star in many YouTube videos. However, the videos don't show the disastrous number of lorises that die in the squalid conditions of back-alley pet markets, warned loris conservation group the Little Fireface Project.
Pet trappers have decimated loris populations throughout Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Lorises sport fangs that they smear with a venomous secretion from a gland on their arms. Poachers rip these teeth out to make the animals safe for the pet trade, but the procedure can be fatal to the loris. Lorises' body parts are also used in traditional medicines.
The hard, sharp-edged scales of the pangolin's armor can frustrate a lion, but can't stop a determined human. Many poached pangolins go to satisfy demand in China.Corbis
The hard, sharp-edged scales of the pangolin's armor can frustrate a lion, but it can't stop a determined human. Many poached pangolins go to satisfy demand in China, where the meat sells for $70 to $82 per kilogram, reported the Guardian. Practitioners of Chinese traditional medicine believe that dried pangolin scales can promote menstruation and lactation, as well as ease rheumatism and arthritis pain, according to the Journal of Chinese Medicine.
People wiped out most Chinese pangolins (Manis pentadactyla), so now trappers snare pangolin species everywhere, from West Africa to Southeast Asia. In 2012, Thai customs officials confiscated 110 pangolins (shown here) worth approximately $35,000, before smugglers could sneak the animals out of Bangkok.
Sea cucumbers are in demand in China.Corbis
Like pangolin, sea cucumbers have become the target of poachers around the world as Chinese demand for the animals increases. Chinese traditional medicine practitioners prescribe sea cucumbers for weakness, impotence, constipation and frequent urination, according to the Institute for Traditional Medicine. The lumpy marine animals also end up on plates as delicacies.
In coral reefs, over-harvesting of sea cucumbers removes the ocean's clean-up crew. As sea cucumbers feed, they vacuum up algae and other detritus that can choke a reef. Many regions have banned sea cucumber collection. However, a lucrative black market fuels sea cucumber poachers. For example, competition for sea cucumbers now fuels violent conflict between fishing villages in Mexico, reported the New York Times.
In American Samoa on Dec. 14, 2013, more than 1,000 sea cucumbers were confiscated from 13 men on the same day that the islands' governor signed a moratorium on collection, Samoa News reported.
The Chinese giant salamander has declined dangerously in the past 30 years.Corbis
Populations of the world's largest amphibian, the Chinese giant salamander, declined dangerously in the past 30 years. Like the pangolin and sea cucumber, the nearly six-foot-long (1.8 m) salamander disappeared from much of its former range in the wake of demand from users of traditional Chinese medicine. Poaching for food, pollution and loss of habitat also took their toll on the salamander (Andrias davidianus), which the IUCN lists as “Critically Endangered.”
Captive breeding programs in China strive to keep the animal on dinner plates and in medicine chests. People raise thousands of the salamanders in facilities such as the Jing'an County Giant Salamander Research Center, reported Xihua News Agency. Engineers also have molded salamander dens into the concrete of channelized Chinese rivers to help wild populations, reported the BBC.
The quetzal's gorgeous feathers made it a valuable target in the 20th century.Corbis
The sinuous, jade-green tail feathers of the quetzal adorned Mayan rulers' clothing and served as currency. The birds themselves enjoyed royal favor and protection.
“In the province of Vera Paz they punish with death him who killed the bird with the rich plumes,” wrote Bartalome de Las Casas, the Fransiscan friar, historian and human rights advocate, in the mid-16th century, according to “The Ancient Maya,” by Sylvanus Morley.
After the Spanish conquest, the quetzal lost its sacred protection. The quetzal's luxuriant feathers made it a valuable target in the 20th century. As the bird disappeared, Central American nations and Mexico passed legislation to protect quetzals by banning trade of its parts. Yet, even as quetzal poaching diminished, deforestation shattered the quetzals' cloud forest habitat into disconnected fragments stretching from southern Mexico to Panama.
Now, bird-watching tourism boosts local economies in quetzal territory, giving people an economic incentive to protect the birds, although poaching, deforestation and climate change still menace the emerald avians.
Endangered turtle eggs are served with salt as a delicacy and supposed aphrodisiac.Corbis
Baby sea turtles naturally face steep odds against survival. Seagulls and crabs loiter near the turtles' nests, devouring the reptiles as they emerge. Humans beat the other predators to the punch and dig up the eggs before the endangered animals even get a chance.
In some areas along the coasts of Central and South America, restaurants and bars sell turtle eggs with salt as a delicacy and supposed aphrodisiac. To reduce demand for poached eggs, an ad campaign in Mexico used a scantily clad model to tell everyone that her man didn't need turtle eggs, reported the New York Times. In Costa Rica, laws regulate sea turtle egg collection (shown here).
Collectors poach endangered butterflies from U.S. forests and fields.Getty
The United States hosts numerous rare butterflies protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. But unscrupulous collectors poach the endangered insects from of U.S. forests and fields. The loss of a few individuals can devastate a struggling species, such as Mitchell's satyr butterfly.
In 2007, the Associated Press reported how U.S Fish and Wildlife Service agents brought down butterfly smuggling kingpin Hisayoshi Kojima. Kojima had made hundreds of thousands of dollars smuggling butterflies protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Sturgeon and paddlefish are in trouble because their eggs are so tasty.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The prestige of their eggs endangers sturgeon and paddlefish. Traditionally, eggs of Beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea were eaten as caviar before over-harvesting depleted Eurasian waterways of the slow-growing giant fish. Poachers continue to smuggle beluga caviar, while other criminals have turned to alternative egg sources. In the United States, poachers sell paddlefish eggs for use in black-market caviar.
Last year, Missouri Department of Conservation and federal agents busted a multi-state paddlefish trafficking network operating in Missouri. More than 100 suspects received citations or arrest warrants for federal charges related to paddlefish poaching.
Pythons have disappeared from parts of their native range.Corbis
In Florida, Burmese pythons dominated native animals after the snakes escaped, or were released, from captivity. The pythons now breed and thrive as top predator in areas of the Everglades. During last year's Python Challenge, competitors removed 68 pythons from the swamps and grasslands of the Everglades, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. However, thousands of pythons remained in the American wetlands.
While America can't get rid of non-native pythons, the snakes have disappeared from parts of their native range. The IUCN presented evidence that pythons are now rare in China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The trade in python leather and meat drives the disappearance of the snakes, which the IUCN lists as “Vulnerable.”
The black snub-nosed monkey is a success story, raising its numbers to 3,000. Corbis
The trade in monkey and ape meat threatens primates around the world. For example, poachers could send to market the world's entire population of Sanje mangabey (Cercocebus sanjei), an estimated 1,300 ground dwelling monkey from the eastern slopes of Tanzania's Udzungwa Mountains. In South America, the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps), clings to 2.5 percent of its original range of tropical forests, while continuing to face poaching.
However, one of the planet's most endangered monkeys managed to bounce back from near extinction. The black snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti) increased its population in western China and Tibet to approximately 3,000 individuals, reported the Times of India. Over-hunting nearly killed off the noseless primates in the 1980s.