ENDANGERED SPECIES MONDAY | HIPPOCAMPUS KUDA
Once a common site within our oceans, the spotted seahorse (common seahorse) is facing extinction. The largest threat known is use and trade within the Traditional Chinese Medicine culture. As of 2015 its estimated that some twenty million (20 million) seahorses are used within the Traditional Chinese Medicine trade. (Photographer unknown).
Known in Mandarin as Hai Ma seahorses are believed to cure a wide spectrum of ailments and diseases and generally help to improve health. There is no evidence that I can locate to prove seahorses can improve human health in anyway shape or form. T.C.M practitioners have alleged seahorses can cure anything from asthma, arteriosclerosis, incontinence, impotence, insomnia, thyroid disorders, skin ailments, broken bones, heart disease, throat infections, abdominal pain, sores, skin infections.
Broken bones? Now that is about as ridiculous as it gets, impotence and broken bones are not illnesses but more physical complaints of which consuming seahorses is about as effective as pouring boiling hot water onto a third degree burn. A study in Taiwan located some fifty eight (58) sea horses from Taiwanese T.C.M vendors. A total of eight (8) different species were located. Seven (7) were listed as vulnerable, while one (1) was listed as endangered.
The species listed as endangered was Hippocampus capensis commonly known as the Knysna seahorse (pictured below). The remaining seven (which doesn’t include the species pictured above) are scientifically identified as Hippocampus algiricus, Hippocampus comes, Hippocampus histrix, Hippocampus kelloggi, Hippocampus kuda, Hippocampus spinosissimus, and Hippocampus trimaculatus. If we include the species above – Hippocampus kuda this makes a total of eight (8) listed as vulnerable, and one (1) listed as endangered equating to nine (9) in total nearing extinction.
Image: Knysna seahorses | Credits Professor Charles Griffiths
Its quite possible there could be many more species of sea horses that haven’t been listed on the International Union for the Conservation Of Natures Red List [IUCN]. Hippocampus kuda was identified back by Dr Pieter Bleeker (July 10, 1819, Zaandam – January 24, 1878, from The Hague) whom was a Dutch medical doctor, ichthyologist, and herpetologist.
He was famous for the Atlas Ichthyologique des Orientales Neerlandaises, his monumental work on the fishes of East Asia published between 1862 and 1877. I don’t state this often however am going to repeat oneself again. Every single species of animal I’ve written about identified from the (1800’s) has almost all but gone extinct or are at least on their way towards extinction. Another pattern I have found is that many animals and plants used within the (T.C.M) trade were being used thousands of years ago – long before non-Asian travelers identified them. When the species are eventually identified – individual specie populations begin declining!
Since 1996-2003 the common seahorse has been listed as vulnerable, populations are declining very fast, furthermore there was little mentioned about the species at CoP17 in Johannesburg, South Africa; a country that is responsible for a large proportion of seahorse harvests. These harvests are legally shipped from South Africa into Asia, yet large numbers of seahorses are decreasing in South Africa.
I.A.R.F.A Environmental Crime Investigators located one legal trader identified as NGWABE TRADING that hosts a supplying ability of TWO HUNDRED METRIC TONS a month. When we inquired where these seahorses are harvested from, and the species caught we were not given a straightforward answer. NGWABE TRADING was though able to supply us with seahorses that have paperwork (all allegedly legal and above-board.) Yet we’re losing the vast majority of our seahorses. Furthermore I am very suspicious as to whether all of these seahorses are being harvested legally.
Two hundred metric tons per month is no different to two hundred metric tons of sand, cement, or rocks. On questioning the fishing company which I myself do suspect illegal poaching is going on here, many of these seahorses are dry traded to Asia. We’re talking big bucks too. So if this trade was restricted, or even banned, its likely South Africa would lose her seahorses in a matter of years, because legal farming operations wouldn’t be allowed if trade bans came into place. Meaning poaching would increase on a wide scale to supply Asia’s appetite for pseudo medicines.
Image: One of many legal online seahorse/fish traders trading to Asia.
Seahorses are also used as an aphrodisiac and to facilitate childbirth in the T.C.M trade. As much as I want to disbelieve this, there is unfortunately “some scientific evidence” that does prove to a degree consuming a regular fish diet can improve sexual behavior within humans; however helping to conceive I am somewhat skeptical about. Sources are cited below for your information from the scientific community.
Between twenty (20) and forty (40) million seahorses are allegedly harvested every-year for the T.C.M trade, however if we go on the amount of trade originating from South Africa – its obvious that by the ton load this number is seriously under-quoted. If I myself was purchasing the minimum ton load of ten (10) tons per month – that would easily equate to over twenty (20) and forty (40) million seahorses per annum based on twelve (12) months.
So I think its safe to say we’re looking at possibly hundreds of millions rather than the claimed IUCN stats. I must also note that the spotted seahorse is listed on Appendix II, and to date we will never really know how many seahorses remain within their endemic range, or how many are illegally harvested?
The common seahorse in question which is the species harvested the most for the T.C.M trade is endemic to the following regions: American Samoa (American Samoa); Australia (Northern Territory, Queensland); Bahrain; Cambodia; Fiji; French Polynesia; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Japan; Kuwait; Malaysia; Micronesia, Federated States of ; Mozambique; New Caledonia; Pakistan; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Saudi Arabia; Singapore; Solomon Islands; South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal); Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Tonga; United States (Hawaiian Is.); and Viet Nam.
Endemic ocean locations are: Indian Ocean – western; Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – western central; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – eastern central.
Image: Dried Seahorses for sale, China | Credits David Fleetham
Common threats are cited above in more detail. Major threats though are listed below for your immediate attention:
Hippocampus kuda is threatened by damage to its habitats from coastal development and destructive fishing practices. Land-based activities such as coastal construction can diminish seagrass beds and mangroves while leading to increased pollution and siltation in surrounding marine waters. For example, in Malaysia Hippocampus kuda numbers declined due to an extensive port development around the Pulai Estuary that destroyed large tracts of seagrass meadow.
Fishing methods such as trawling result in substantial damage to seagrass beds globally, and especially in the Indo-Pacific. The decline in and fragmentation of the species’ habitats throughout its range indicates possible declines in populations in addition to those caused by fisheries.
All seahorse species have vital parental care, and many species studied to date have high site fidelity, highly structured social behaviour, and relatively sparse distributions. These life history parameters often make species susceptible to exploitation as has been demonstrated for a number of species, including seahorses. Although seahorses also have some traits, such as small body size, fast growth and high fecundity, that may confer resilience to exploitation pressures.
Due to the mode of spawning exhibited by Hippocampus kuda (ovoviviparous brood pouch male parental care), fecundity is comparatively low compared to non-brood pouch spawning fishes and therefore its capacity for population growth is more limited than other species. As a result of the lack of broadcast spawning of pelagic eggs, dispersal of potential recruits is limited. Additionally, given the limited swimming abilities of seahorses, it is highly unlikely that rescue effects would occur from adjacent populations.
Concluding: I am somewhat concerned about the species future survival. CITES is allowing use and trade however those countries that are listed under the convention are allegedly strictly regulated and monitored – I don’t call ten tons per month from one South African company strict regulation. Countries that are importing/exporting must prove they have permits, however I don’t quite understand how this area of monitoring is working – which it clearly isn’t as the seahorse trade is colossal within many Asian countries and South Africa too.
Hippocampus kuda is listed as vulnerable in the National Red Data Books of Singapore and Thailand, and endangered in the Red Data Book of Viet Nam. In France it is illegal to import seahorses under the name H. kuda.
The future is bleak unfortunately and with trade so fanned out, and from what I have seen on my visits to Asia (increasing) I do honestly believe we’re going to be reporting extinctions in the ‘very near future.’ To date there are thirty two (32) identified species of seahorses. Ecologically, they are important in food chains, consuming tiny fish, small shrimp, and plankton, and being consumed by larger fish (such as tuna and rays) and crabs. So if we lose the seahorse we lose yet another vital source of food for endangered tuna species, rays, crabs, and even whales (Etc.)
Thank you for reading and please share to create awareness and to improve education.
Dr Jose C. Depre.
Environmental, Botanical & Human Scientist.
ENDANGERED SPECIES FRIDAY | EQUUS FERUS CABALLUS
This Fridays Endangered Species Post focuses on a sub species of the E. ferus that inhabits the plains of Namibia, Africa. Image: Klein-Aus Vista – E. F. Caballus.
The species (E. ferus) I believe was identified by Professor Carl Von Linnaeus back in 1758 of which identified quite a large number of horses to be precise, however the E. F. Caballus originates from around 1915. Carl Linnaeus born (23 May 1707 – 10 January 1778), also known after his ennoblement as Carl von Linné was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who formalised the modern system of naming organisms called binomial nomenclature. He is known by the epithet “father of modern taxonomy”. Many of his writings were in Latin, and his name is rendered in Latin as Carolus Linnæus (after 1761 Carolus a Linné).
E. F. Caballus isn’t listed on the IUCN Red List that I myself can locate (although is endangered). From 1965 the species was listed as (incredibly rare). Then ‘sketchy reports’ state from 1986 to 1996 the species went completely extinct within the wild, there is no evidence to back this claim up though.
From 2008 the species was ‘allegedly’ re-discovered and listed as critically endangered (although as explained there is no criteria on the IUCN Red List relating to this sub-species). Come 2011 populations had somewhat increased slightly placing the species in the band of endangered?. The criteria relating to extinction I am currently looking into as I believe this report ‘could be incorrect’. There is certainly some image evidence (although not proven) that shows a species ‘identical to the Namibian horse’ during the so called extinction period from 1986-1996. However the sub-species has been reported on since the 1940’s.
From what I know the species is a rare feral desert horse of which populations are believed to be near extinction level. Populations are estimated to be between 90-160 mature individuals. Namibia wild horses generally lead healthy life’s although during times of extreme drought (during the summer months) is when the species is normally reported to be struggling, with a number of deaths reported annually.
The origin of the Namib desert horse is unclear, though several theories have been put forward. Genetic tests have been performed, although none to date have completely verified their origin. The most likely ancestors of the horses are a mix of riding horses and cavalry horses, many from German breeding programs, released from various farms and camps in the early 20th century, especially during World War I. Whatever their origin, the horses eventually congregated in the Garub Plains, near Aus, Namibia, the location of a man-made water source.
During the 1980’s the species was virtually eradicated because locals disliked the horses trampling and eating their crops. Fortunately up until the 1980′ the species has lived a virtually hassle free life. Humans rarely if at all bother them, and there is no evidence to prove the species is under threat from hunters, or the African medicine/animal parts trade. Furthermore there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of poaching neither which is good.
Image: Namibia desert horse and foal.
Namibian wild horses host a number of ‘wild predator threats’ though such as hyenas, blacked backed jackals, and leopards too. Young horses (foals) are normally taken by predators, however adults rarely aren’t.
The harsh environmental conditions in which they live are the main driver of mortality among the Namib desert horse, as they cause dehydration, malnutrition, exhaustion and lameness. Other large plains animals, including the mountain zebra, may have once sporadically utilized the area for grazing during periods of excess rainfall, but human interference (including fencing off portions of land and hunting) have eliminated or significantly reduced the movement of these animals in the area.
The endangered Hartmann’s mountain zebra does exist in the Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park portion of the Namib-Naukluft Park, but their range does not intersect with that of the Namib Desert Horse.
From what I know there is no evidence of wild horses inhabiting anywhere within ‘Southern Africa’, so the theory is these horses may have been imported by the Germans during the last World War, of which after the war the horses were eventually set free to do as they please. While there are numerous speculations and stories – we’ll never truly know where these horses have originated from. Furthermore due to interbreeding genetic testing has proven to be somewhat of a failure too in establishing the true origins of these magnificent beasts.
A further theory although not proven touches on a large vessel carrying thoroughbreds to Australia that unfortunately wreaked near the Orange River. On breaking up the strongest horses are ‘believed’ to have swam ashore to the Garub Plains, the home of the Namib Desert Horse, near Aus, Namibia. As explained though to date there is still no evidence to prove where these horses originated from, moreover all theories haven’t a single scrap of evidence to back such claims up.
Image: Namibia wild horses drinking at water hole.
One of the biggest threats that could today threaten the wild horses of Namibia is that of water shortages. For now we know the horses normally occupy areas where there is sufficient water holes, large man-made or natural lakes. With drought and climate change becoming more problematic within many Southern African countries its likely we ‘could see species extinction occur in as little as five to ten years’.
All the wild horses in the world, with the exception of a single population, originate from domestic stock. Horses were domesticated on the Eurasian steppes 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, and have been in service to humankind ever since. It was on the horse’s back that civilization advanced. Countries were explored, wars were fought, agriculture and industry progressed at the expense of the horse’s freedom.
The only horse population that was never domesticated, and still exists in its true genetic form, is Przewalski’s Horse or the Mongolian Wild Horse. So extinction could occur very soon simply because the Namibia wild horse’s natural born living instincts haven’t really adapted to the extreme wilds of Africa hence why they are commonly located around man-made or natural water sources, and human settlements?
It was reported this year back in April that drought has been responsible for many species of animals dying due to lack of water and available fresh food sources which has prompted the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation (NWHF) to appeal for funds or good quality grass during this more severe period to see the horses through the winter. NWHF was established in 2012 to monitor the well−being of the horses and to marshal funds for buying feed when the need arises during the drier cycles.
Back in April (2016) the (NWHF) stated there is little grass in the horses’ range as the drought has severely affected the central and southern parts of the country. “The foundation fears that without rain there will be virtually no grass left by the onset of winter and as the horses’ condition further deteriorates, numbers will begin to drop dramatically,” the statement reads. Spring is also now approaching Africa of which we may see further prolonged droughts, and even more deaths.
The foundation also expressed gratitude for all generous contributions for the horses during the past six months. This, it said, has provided supplementary feed – a quarter to a third of the horses’ nutritional requirements — in the form of grass and lucern and protein licks, and will sustain the herd until the beginning of June when the next phase will need to be implemented to ensure their survival; (this period is now over and donations are greatly needed to keep these horses alive). If you’d like to donate to the (NWFH) please click the donate button here: DONATE.
Concerning: The April report also highlighted that some 100 ‘old horses and some fouls’ had sadly perished since the beginning of the drought, which to date leaves exactly 160 mature individuals remaining within the desert of Namibia.
Donations to buy grass or lucern for the horses can be made to Namibia Wild Horses Foundation, First National Bank, current account 62246659489 Klein Windhoek branch ( code 281479) and swift FIRNNANX.
The future is uncertain for the species, in my humble opinion I doubt these horses are going to be inhabiting the desert much longer due to the harsh impacts of climate change increasing every year on the African continent. Furthermore due to the species not really having any ‘natural wild instincts from their ancestors’ they’ll continue to rely on humans just to stay alive. If you’d like to help the species please do so via contacting the Namibian Non-Governmental-Organisation above and donate what you can. Alternatively you can I believe volunteer to help preserve Africa’s only wild horse populations known.
Thank you for reading.
Dr Jose C. Depre PhD. MEnvSc. BSc(Hons) Botany, PhD(NeuroSci) D.V.M.
Master of Environmental, Botanical & Human Science.