Star tortoises and Pangolins face extinction from native poachers in southeastern Asia.
Indian poachers are starting to target lesser-known species, as regulations protecting better-know animals such as rhinos and tigers are being enforced more effectively. Demand for products derived from exotic animals may have already driven dozens of species to extinction. While some creatures are kept as house pets, others are slaughtered for food, medicine or aphrodisiacs of uncertain effectiveness.
The star tortoise is harvested from wild areas, in order to supply a growing pet trade in the exotic animals.
"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, a wildlife conservation organization, told the Associated Press.
Indian Pangolins are a variety of scaly anteaters native to Indian, Nepal, Sri Lanka and certain regions of Pakistan. When threatened, the animals curl up into a ball for defense, a mechanism that does not provide protection from human poachers or hunters. Their meat is considered a delicacy in many parts of southeastern Asia, and scales are ground up for use in traditional Chinese medicine. This body part is composed of keratin, the same substance in human fingernails and hair.
Pangolin hunting was once nearly unheard of, with an average of just three animals a year reported killed in India each year between 1990 and 2008. During the years between 2009 and 2013, that number soared to over 320 animals every twelve months. This tally represents just the animals discovered by authorities, and the actual number of animals poached could be up to 10 times higher.
"All eight pangolin species are now listed as threatened with extinction, largely because they are being illegally traded to China and Vietnam. In the 21st Century we really should not be eating species to extinction - there is simply no excuse for allowing this illegal trade to continue," Jonathan Baillie, co-chairman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said.
Monitor lizards have disappeared from wild areas of India due to poaching. Their skin is used in clothing accessories, while tongues and livers, are processed and sold as an aphrodisiac.
Demand for products derived from exotic animals has risen with increasing affluence of populations in China, Vietnam, and other nations throughout the region.
Pangolins resemble an artichoke with legs, and the are the world's only true scaly mammal. Ironically, their primary defense strategy of curling up into a ball assists poachers in smuggling the animals, packed into large pouches.