Take Action: September 2009 Archives

Pangolins: A Species on the Brink of Extinction

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Pangolins are scaly animals similar to anteaters and armadillos that are found in Southeast Asia and Africa... but not for long. Two of the eight species of pangolins are endangered, but all of them are declining due to habitat loss and hunting. The Chinese use them as medicine: pangolins were once thought a remedy for skin disease and today they are used as a cancer cure. Not only are they used as medicine, they are also eaten as food and turned into jewelry and leather. Their future does not look very favorable.

Ninety-eight pangolins and almost seven pounds of pangolin scales were discovered in the home of a Malaysian poacher and taken away by officials. The guilty poacher could have up to twenty-three years in jail and have to pay a fine. But the pangolins' plight continues.

An Indian pangolin, a third species that will soon be endangered at the current rate, was found in a garden in a city that was expanding rapidly last August. The pangolin was taken to an animal rescue center and later released in a nearby national park. That was the first pangolin to be found in someone's home, but many more will follow into the city built on land that was once the wilderness they roamed.

Although these creatures are in serious danger, they are also interesting and so odd that they're cute. Their scales never stop growing, eventually making up twenty percent of their weight. Pangolins have a sticky tongue that is sixteen inches longer than they are (they range from six to three feet). It is the longest tongue of any mammal (in proportion to size) and is used for their exclusive diet of ants and termites (one pangolin eats up to seventy million insects per year). They compensate for not having teeth by eating stones, which, like birds' stone-filled gizzards, grind their food. So that the ants don't bite them, pangolins have ear and nose covers and thick eyelids. Baby pangolins ride on their mom's tail, hanging on as their pangolin parent wobbles along. These harmless, shy animals will either survive or go extinct depending on what happens. Today they aren't faring very well, and it's up to you to change that. There is even a site dedicated to saving them, with information about this interesting and endangered species.


The Road To Aberdeen

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The notorious metallic monsters of the sci-fi movies are fictitious. At least, that's what they're supposed to be. But they're real. For if not monstrous, what are the machines used to cut the logs of Washington State into boards or reduce them down to a sticky pulp? These gigantic tools of destruction are both awful and scary, for they look like horrible monsters with fangs (possibly dripping poison), trying to inflict indescribable pain on things. We had to drive past a factory from the house that we were living in every time we wanted to go to Target or Wal-Mart, but no matter how many times I saw it, it remained a very distressing sight. The plants manufacture boards and planks that are either used locally, in other parts of the United States or shipped abroad. British Columbia, Canada, even manufactures chopsticks for Japan! As you read this, destruction is reigning as the trees, old and new alike, are being sawed down without regard to size, age, or any other category that they could fit into.

Yet that factory was not the worst factory we'd seen. Compared to the most horrible one that any of us had ever seen, that one could have been called environmentally-friendly!

Just outside of Olympic National Park, on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, an almost unbelievable tragedy was -and is still- happening. Whole hillsides are getting completely destroyed, not to return for over a lifetime. Magnificent old-growth forests are being turned into devastated graveyards with unwanted trees strewn on the barren hillsides. As you drive through Olympic National Park, overwhelming numbers of 18-wheelers hurtle past, bearing loads of cut logs, many with clumps of moss still clinging to the mottled bark, to the factories where they are cut into boards or pulped into paper while the smokestacks are polluting in great puffs of smoke. And if you look across some lakes to the private property on the other side, the park border is marked by straight lines of trees. The private property is completely barren, having been clearcut by loggers. I found it disappointing when the Obama Administration, even though it is doing many things to help protect the environment, including a recent statement saying that no more roads could be built in national forests, recently approved a logging contract in a roadless Alaskan national forest. George Bush was going to build roads in several national forests to log, but I do not think that the national forests should be cut down, even to provide jobs. Some states use their forests as tourist attractions, generating jobs and money, and if they log it is very seldom and very little at a time. When we were driving towards Aberdeen, the hills were an awful shade of brown. Vast, depressing, and uninhabited, these hills hardly look like what they once were: shady forests where squirrels frisked and owls once swooped down from their perch in the high branches of firs, hemlocks, and spruce, in the soft, dusky evening light. This scene is now uncommon, found only in state and national parks. Now what is left of that landscape is a carpet of broken branches and wood chips with an occasional tiny tree, sprouted from a pinecone left behind or missed by the logger's chainsaws, still standing.

Yet the worst was still to come.

Just outside of Aberdeen, we saw it. We were on a concrete bridge spanning a river adjacent to it, and when we looked down we saw one of the most terrible sights possible to see in the entire state. We'd gotten used to seeing logs that were decaying into "nurse logs" in the rainforests all around the state, but most of those had fallen naturally. And they were only one at a time. What we saw was incomparably different. Huge piles of logs, the bark unevenly stripped off of them, sat in the largest lumberyard any of us had ever seen. To prevent shrinking, the logs had been misted with dirty water, staining them gray in irregular splotches. It was so atrocious that I could not bear to look at it any longer than I had to. It was the worst thing I'd ever seen. It still is.

In American folktales, loggers are made heroes by legend. Paul Bunyan, the famed "lumberjack," is actually considered a good guy because he could cut down hundreds of trees with one swing of his axe. But by destroying the trees, people are destroying themselves. These giants are the source of oxygen and without them we will not have so many renewable sources of fresh air in the world. As if to prove this point, many trees are endangered. The Bigleaf Mahogany, found in Central America, is number eight on the Top Ten Endangered Species list. This species of mahogany is very valuable-one square meter is generally 1,300 dollars.

This is an important issue and species will continue to lose their habitat, resulting in many going extinct. Every second, an area of the Amazon rainforest the size of one and a half football fields is burned to make room for farmland. People must react to this ongoing injustice, or we will have a plain, ugly, and lifeless world. Today millions of trees are being sliced up into useless furniture that no one needs, into wood pellets for wood-burning stoves, and into a thousand other things that are unnecessary.  Having a little wood furniture is not terrible, but buying more than you really need is. Instead of wood-burning stoves, which not only use wood but also pollute, electric heaters or, even better, wearing sweaters are much better alternatives. Even pencils use much more wood than buying mechanical pencils and refilling them, in which case the only wood is in the cardboard packaging. (If possible, buy things with the least packaging possible.) It is very important to conserve this resource, for if this devastating logging continues, the hillsides will be gray, global warming will not end, and millions of animals, both known and unknown to science, will become extinct. Because today we are headed down the infamous road to Aberdeen.
Wolves in Montana and Idaho aren't going to remain there very long. They have been taken off of the Endangered Species list, and it is now legal to kill them. On September 1, the first wolf (in Idaho) was killed. Today, Montana's wolf hunting season officially opens. Last year, there were 39 pairs of breeding wolves in Idaho, while Montana only supported 34. But that's only 146 wolves, and although the younger ones aren't included, that is not nearly enough. Idaho is allowing 255 wolves to be killed, and Montana 75. According to Earthjustice, an environmental site that reported on this issue, "...the Fish and Wildlife Service authorized Idaho and Montana to reduce their wolf populations from a current population of roughly 1,500 wolves to only 200-300 wolves in the two states."  Earthjustice went to court to reverse the wolf hunting policy and, although the court agreed that taking them off of the Endangered Species list was unlawful, they would not stop it.

But more wolves than that will be killed. Farmers also kill wolves because they are supposedly interfering with their livestock, or because they are merely on their land. In Idaho, there is no limit to how many wolves farmers can kill because of their animals. In the state of Oregon, they had three pairs of wolves. But one pair got into trouble because farmers were upset because the wolves had killed some of their livestock. So they tried putting up fences, but the farmers still viewed them as threats. The wolves were killed, and now Oregon has only two pairs of wolves. The 330 wolves legally permitted to be killed are not including those totals, nor are they counting the wolves that will die naturally. Taking them off of the Endangered Species list would have been terrible, but allowing them to be killed will put them right back on it. It is yet another tragedy which conservationists are trying to stop, but wolves are already dying. Soon it will be too late for the recovery of this disappearing species.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Take Action category from September 2009.

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