Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – April 3, 2015

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By: Sara Cassidy, M.S., Ph.D.

photo credit: Pangolin via photopin (license)

Animal Conservation Policy

Poaching brings another creature to the brink of extinction

Ever heard of the pangolin? Me neither, but recent media coverage of this critically endangered creature places a spotlight on the impact humans are having on their environment. The pangolin, also known as the spiny anteater, is a nocturnal mammal that lives in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that subsists on ants and other small insects. Asian pangolins are threatened by loss of habitat, as land is increasing cleared for agricultural and other human use, but are most severely in danger due to poaching. Pangolin meat is prized as a delicacy in China, and its scales composed of keratin are used as a traditional medicine for skin and other disorders. Demand for the animal has increased in the past decade resulting increased illegal shipments disguised as other goods. According to the NY Times, “officials in Uganda said they had seized two tons of pangolin skins packed in boxes identified as communications equipment. In France a few years ago, more than 200 pounds of pangolin scales were discovered buried in bags of dog biscuits.” Because the animals are endangered, most countries have laws against hunting pangolin. However, the laws are either weakly enforced or poachers make enough from the animal carcass to incentivize the activity anyway. There is some question as to how endangered the animals are. Because they are nocturnal and shy, little is known about population levels in the wild. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has the pangolin categorized in Appendix II; species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Chinese pangolin as critically endangered and all other species of pangolin as threatened. Some conservation groups are hoping to increase the endangered status of the pangolin and make all trade of the animal illegal. (Erica Goode, NY Times; www.savepangolins.org)

Resource Conservation Policy

Record drought forces increased water conservation in California

After a record low snowpack was recorded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on April 1st, the governor of California issued an executive order mandating cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. This conservation amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water saved over the next nine months. KQED and NPR compiled an infographic to show just how severe the decline in snowpack has been over the past few years of drought; the water content of the Sierra Nevada range was just 6% of the average in 2015. The impact of the loss of mountain snow will be great. Millions of people depend on the water that melts and flows downstream during the summer and fall months, including the farmers of the agriculture-rich California Central valley. In addition to general water conservation, the governor also ordered millions of acres of lawns throughout the state to be replaced by drought tolerant landscaping and the prohibition of new developments from using potable water for irrigation. Increased conservation and enforcement measures will help, but it is small consolation to the already parched fields that account for the overwhelming majority of produce on US shelves, including 90% of all broccoli and 95% of all celery and garlic; hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland was fallowed or lost in 2014 due to insufficient water supply. Although Americans have yet to really feel the pinch (with the exception of citrus fruit; both drought and disease have been driving up prices in the past couple years), experts predict the price of fresh fruits and vegetables will rise this summer.      (Craig Miller, KQED Science and NPR; http://www.ca.gov/drought; Brian Palmer, Slate)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

April 3, 2015 at 12:20 pm

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