WPS has T-shirts! Show off your concern for endangered species in a fun way. The whimsical, animal-themed shirts, featuring cheetah, rhino, pangolin, echidna, and elephant, are reminders that these animals face severe survival challenges. Purchasing merch helps WPS protect animals on the ground in Africa and other places where we work. Select from six colors: white, heather, cream, mint, blue, and lilac.
The following summaries highlight the plights of these animals.
Save the Chubby Unicorns
It’s hard to believe that someone would kill a real-life “unicorn,” but they do. Rhinoceros in Africa and Asia are threatened species, illegally hunted for their horns. The horns are cruelly cut from their faces, leaving them disfigured and dead. The wildlife black market circulates horn products primarily to consumers in Asia. Vietnam and China are the top two countries driving demand. According to the International Rhino Foundation, on average, three African rhinos have been poached a day for the last five years and counting. Rhino horns sell for slightly more than $27,000 per pound.
Those who purchase rhino horns do so for all kinds of reasons. For some, the horn is a status symbol—worn as a fashion statement, given as a gift, or displayed in one’s home or business. Others superstitiously believe it is a curative tonic for virility, hangovers, and disease. Yet the rhino’s horn helps it root for food, dig for water, and defend its territory and young.
Save the Turbo Kitties
Cheetahs are beautiful cats, admired for their spotted fur and graceful bodies. Yet these traits are also the reasons they are threatened. Cheetahs are hunted as trophy animals for their fur—their skins displayed as rugs or hangings in homes and businesses, and their paws, bones, tail, and other body parts considered status symbols for medicinal and religious beliefs. A cheetah’s spots help to camouflage it from predators and keep cubs safe from harm. In Africa, where they primarily live, they easily blend into the tall savanna grasses, which also gives them an advantage as hunters of antelope and other prey. A cheetah’s paws are denser than other big cats’ paws, which helps it make quick turns on the run. The tail serves as a rudder for balance.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that fewer than 7,000 mature cheetahs remain in the wild. Humans value cheetahs for their beauty and unique qualities. Rather than kill cheetahs for these traits, would that we could value them as living beings in their natural habitat.
Save the Artichoke Dragons
The pangolin is not as well-known as other endangered animals, but this shy, insect-eating species is among the most illegally trafficked animals in the world. Its body is covered in tough, overlapping scales that protect all but its soft belly from predators. Like rhino horn, these scales are made of keratin, the same material found in human fingernails and hair. When threatened, pangolins defend themselves by rolling into a ball. However, their scales are no match against humans. Like the rhino, pangolins are illegally and heavily poached, with China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries driving the demand. The scales are made into fashion accessories and “good luck” talismans or ground into so-called curative powders. Their bodies are sold as bushmeat or served in restaurants as a delicacy.
There are four species of pangolin in Africa. Each plays an important role in the ecosystem by controlling insects that spread infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and plague. This service helps human communities stay healthy, yet, ironically, for those participating in illegal wildlife trade, a dead pangolin is valued more highly than a living one. Statistics estimate that 20 tons of pangolins are trafficked each year, with approximately 1,000,000 poached in the last decade.
Save the Prickly Waddle-Floofs
Another lesser-known but endangered animal is the echidna, which lives in the meadows, deserts, and forests of New Guinea and Australia. Echidnas look like bigger versions of hedgehogs with bodies covered in spines. Like hedgehogs and pangolins, they curl into balls to protect themselves from harm. They use their snouts and feet to dig for ants and termites. The echidna and also platypus are unique for being the only living mammals that lay eggs. Because of this distinction they provide a critical link for scientists to understand mammalian evolution.
The echidna is threatened because people hunt it for food or remove them from the wild to be sold as “captive bred” pets—a false claim that, together with taking them from their native habitat, is a serious crime in Australia. It is difficult to breed echidnas in captivity even by legitimate agencies, such as zoos, due to their complicated reproductive process and low birth rate. (Females produce only one egg per year.) Trafficking echidnas and other wildlife reduces animal populations and threatens extinction. Echidnas are cute in the wild where they belong, not in people’s homes.
Save the Gigantic Snorkle-Snouts
The sheer size of elephants—the largest terrestrial mammal—evokes feelings of awe, all the more so because they move gracefully, quietly, and with precision. A hallmark feature of male African and Asian elephants, and also female African elephants, is their ivory tusks, used for removing and lifting objects like tree branches, defending themselves, and digging for food or water, among other purposes.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) studies estimate that African elephants play an important role in the dispersal and germination of up to 30% of African tree species. Yet their numbers have dropped by more than 60% in the last decade. Like rhino horns, elephant tusks are cruelly cut from their bodies and illegally traded on the black market. Around 100 African elephants are killed each year for tusks worth approximately $1,500 a pound. With tusks weighing up to 250 pounds, elephant ivory is a major contributor to the billion-dollar international wildlife trade market. China is the major driver of this demand.
WPS advocates standards of compassion that value elephants using their tusks in the wild and other animals behaving as they do in their natural environments without threat of being killed for ownership of the body parts that give these creatures their stamina and place in the world.
Article by Julie West, WPS Communications Specialist