What Animals Are Most Affected by Illegal Poaching?

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Wildlife species that are already dwindling in numbers due to loss of their habitat and food sources, are vulnerable to poaching -- illegal hunting and fishing. While some animals are poached for their horns, skins and bones, others are overexploited for their value as food and medicine. Poaching has added several species to the endangered list. More awareness, national and international laws, and other measures are being used in an attempt to protect them.

Elephants and Rhinos Are Poached for Their Tusks and Horns

  • Elephants and rhinoceroses, which are native to Africa and Southern Asia, are dwindling due to the loss of their natural habitat and illegal poaching. Both of these animals are prized by poachers for their tusks or horns. Up to 35,000 elephants are slaughtered each year for their tusks, which are illegally sold for their valuable ivory. Every year hundreds of rhinoceros are also killed for their horns, particularly in South Africa, which is home to more than 80 percent of the world's rhino population. Rhino horns are highly sought after for medicinal purposes; in traditional Asian medicine the horn is ground into a powder and used as a remedy for a number of ailments and diseases, including impotence and cancer. Although none of these medicinal claims have been proven, rhino horn still sells for more than its weight in gold.

Pangolins Are Trafficked for Their Meat and Scales

  • If you have never heard of or seen a pangolin before, it is almost too late to see one in the wild thanks to poachers. This small mammal is found in Asia and Africa and resembles a scaly anteater with a small head, elongated snout, and narrow body and tail. Despite protection for all eight species of pangolins under national and international laws, they are the most poached animals in Asia. Almost 220,000 pangolins were seized from traders in about a 15-year span. Two species of pangolins are currently on the endangered list. Pangolins are illegally hunted for their meat and scales, which are used in traditional Asian medicine for love charms and other uses.

Whales and Bluefin Tuna Are Poached for Food

  • Sea mammals and fish are also at risk of being poached. Despite a ban on commercial whaling and international trade of whale products, Iceland and other countries continue to hunt whales. More than 1000 whales are killed every year for their high cuisine and medicinal value. This has reduced the population of North Atlantic right whales to less than 300. While tuna may seem to be more plentiful than whales, some species are at risk due to overfishing and illegal fishing. Bluefin are the largest species of tuna and are one of the most valuable fish due to their demand by sushi restaurants. Illegal fishing for the bluefin occurs in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, including off the coast of the U.S. All three species of this fish are critically endangered.

Amur Leopards Are Hunted for Their Furs

  • The Amur leopard is a rare subspecies that is now only found in the remote, snowy forests of eastern Russian. This large cat was once native to Korea and China, but is now extinct in Korea, and only recently have any wild Amur leopards been spotted in China. The Amur leopard may be the most endangered species on Earth, with only about 60 existing in the wild in Russia, and another 8-12 in China. This rare leopard is endangered due to the loss of its natural habitat, climate change and poaching by hunters who sell the highly valuable furs. A number of international organizations have joined forces to protect the Amur leopard. Projects are underway to rebuild their population, including reintroducing captive Amur leopards into the wild.

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