A scaly mammal called the pangolin is, according to some estimates, the most trafficked animal in the world. Its meat and scales, and even fetuses, are prized in Vietnam and China. All eight species found in Asia and Africa are now threatened with extinction, as poachers have nearly wiped out the populations in China and much of Southeast Asia.
If there were a contest for least charismatic animal, the sea cucumber — which is not actually a vegetable — might be a strong contender. It hangs out on the ocean floor, acting something like pudgy vacuum cleaner, eating tiny sea creatures and breaking down waste, which helps coral reefs. One recent study noted the creatures attract “limited public conservation concern,” even though seven species of them are endangered and there’s booming demand for them in China, where they’re eaten and believed to cure ailments like joint pain. In 2014, Florida said nearly 60,000 sea cucumbers had been fished off its waters in 2013 to meet that demand, and it capped the number that fishing vessels could harvest.
The portly dugong, a cousin of the manatees that flock to the coast of Florida, is considered “vulnerable” to extinction. Poaching has become so prolific in northern Australia — home to the largest dugong population — that the country’s government has devoted millions of dollars to stop the illegal trade in dugong meat, which is a staple for many of Australia’s indigenous people.
Earlier this week, Indonesian authorities hailed their capture of a fishing vessel long wanted by Interpol for poaching. The ship’s prey: Patagonian toothfish, which is often marketed by the more appetizing name Chilean Sea Bass on menus in the United States and Canada. Catching the deep-sea dwellers is legal in many places, and illegal fishing has been curbed in recent years. But poaching remains a lucrative business, and experts say toothfish remain vulnerable to overfishing.
On Wednesday evening, to draw attention to wildlife trafficking and the Obama administration’s efforts to combat it, the U.S. State Department projected images of wildlife on its building in Washington. Pictured here is a milky eagle owl, which, unlike the animals above, remains fairly abundant in the wild.