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Indian Pangolin, Star Tortoise New Poaching Targets

Aug 18, 2014 05:20 PM EDT

The lesser known Indian pangolin and star tortoise are now new targets for poachers, as India increases its efforts to protect more iconic endangered animals including tigers and rhinos.

"The problem is that we were turning a blind eye to all lesser-known species and suddenly this very lucrative trade has been allowed to explode," Belinda Wright, director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, told The Associated Press (AP).

Poachers are now thinking small, killing exotic animals like the scaly Indian pangolin and star tortoise. Some eat these small animals for their supposed medicinal or aphrodisiacal properties while others are kept as pets. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy, for instance, while their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicines.

According to Wright, more than 320 of these animals were poached each year from 2009 to 2013.

Meanwhile, star tortoise seizures by airport and port customs officials have soared from 800 to 3,000 per year from 2002 to 2013, according to the protection society.

Normally creatures like tigers are more attractive to poachers, but they have switched their sights to such smaller critters since the Indian government cracked down on tiger conservation efforts. The AP reports that forests and hills have now been turned into reserves and national parks to protect the tiger.

Unfortunately for the Indian pangolin and star tortoise, they are suffering in numbers due to such efforts.

"We're talking here of the threat of pangolins being wiped out. But most often the officials set to catch the poachers don't even know what the animal looks like, let alone who are the people involved in catching them, or those involved in the trade," Shekhar Niraj, India director of TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, told the AP.

Though there is no accurate information on population numbers of the Indian pangolin, the species is currently listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

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