HomeHealthMedicineTaiwan's pangolins suffer surge in feral dog attacks

Taiwan’s pangolins suffer surge in feral dog attacks

Most prized for their scales, pangolins face another danger in wildlife-conscious Taiwan: a growing wild dog population.

In most of its habitats, the biggest threat from the heavily trafficked pangolin comes from humans. But in Taiwan, scaly mammals face another danger: a booming wild dog population.

Veterinarian Tseng Shao-tung, 28, has seen firsthand what a dog can do to the friendly creatures during his shifts at a hospital in Hsinchu.

Last month, he worked to save the life of a male juvenile pangolin that had been lying in the wild for days with half of its tail chewed off.

“It has a large open wound on its tail and its body tissue has decayed,” Tseng said, gently turning the anesthetized pangolin to disinfect the gaping injury.

It was the fifth pangolin that Tseng and his fellow vets had rescued this year, all from suspected dog attacks.

Chief veterinarian Chen Yi-ru said she had noticed a steady increase in pangolins with trauma injuries over the past five years — most with severed tails.

Pangolins are covered in hard, overlapping body scales and curl up into a ball when attacked. The tail is the most vulnerable part of the animal.

“That’s why the tail is usually bitten first in an attack,” Chen explains.

Wildlife researchers and officials said dog attacks, which are responsible for more than half of all injuries since 2018, have become “the biggest pangolin threat in Taiwan” in a report released last year.

Most trafficked mammal

Pangolins are described by conservationists as the world’s most trafficked mammal, with traditional Chinese medicine being the main driver.

Although their scales are made of keratin — the substance that makes up our fingernails and hair — they are in huge demand among Chinese consumers due to the unproven belief that they aid breastfeeding mothers.

That demand has decimated pangolin populations in Asia and Africa despite a global ban and funded a lucrative international black market trade.

All eight pangolin species on both continents are listed as endangered or critically endangered.

Taiwan is a comparative conservation success story, transforming itself from a place where pangolins went from nearly extinct to protected and thriving.

Chan Fang-tse, a veterinarian and researcher at the official Taiwanese Endemic Species Research Institute, said massive hunting took place in the 1950s to 1970s.

Pangolins are described by conservationists as the world's most trafficked mammal, with traditional Chinese medicine being the m

Pangolins are described by conservationists as the world’s most trafficked mammal, with traditional Chinese medicine being the main driver.

“Sixty thousand pangolins in Taiwan were killed during that period for their scales and skins,” he told AFP.

A 1989 conservation law put an end to the industry, while rising awareness of conservation led the public to embrace their scaly neighbors as something to cherish, rather than commodities.

The population of the Formosan or Taiwanese pangolin, a subspecies of the Chinese pangolin, has since rebounded, and researchers estimate that there are now between 10,000 and 15,000 in the wild.

But the island’s growing wild dog population – itself a result of a 2017 government policy not to cull strays – hits pangolins hard, Chan warned.

Pangolins are most affected because they have a large overlap of the roaming area and pangolins don’t move as fast as other animals, Chan said.

Picky Eaters

Pangolins are also vulnerable due to the small number of offspring they have.

The solitary Formosan pangolins mate once a year and produce only one offspring after 150 days of gestation. Captive breeding programs have had little success.

“It may be more difficult to breed pangolins than pandas,” Chan said.

The increase in injured pangolins has created a new challenge for veterinarians: finding enough ants and termites to feed the picky eaters, who often reject larval substitute mixtures.

Tseng got into a truck with three other vets and went to a tree to retrieve an ant nest he had recently seen.

“We have to be constantly on the lookout and look for ant nests every few days because we have more pangolins to feed,” Tseng said.

A pangolin can eat an ant nest the size of a football every day.

The government has also urged residents to report nesting sites to help feed the pangolins until they can be released back into the wild.

But the wounded pangolin in Tseng’s care will likely need to be sent to a zoo or government facility for adoption after it recovers.

“It will struggle to climb trees and will not be able to roll itself into a ball shape,” Tseng said.

“It has lost the ability to protect itself in the wild.”

Discover how endangered pangolins, or ‘scaly anteaters’, digest food

© 2022 AFP

Quote: Taiwanese pangolins suffer wave of wild dog attacks (2022, September 25) Retrieved September 25, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-taiwan-pangolins-surge-feral-dog.html

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