Wildlife & Biodiversity

Legal, controlled trade of wild species can have many benefits: CITES report

Adressing causes of poaching will benefit indigenous people, local communities and others involved in the supply chains

By Susan Chacko
Published: Thursday 17 November 2022
Crocodile ranching programmes in Kenya and Zimbabwe decreased poaching pressure on other species. Photo for representation: Wikimedia Commons

Wildlife trade can benefit wildlife populations and people but can drive biodiversity loss if not effectively regulated, according to a new report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

CITES is an international agreement that aims to ensure international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten the species’ survival. The 19th Conference of the Parties to CITES began November 14 in Panama and will continue until November 25, 2022. 

Read more: CITES COP19: India’s freshwater turtle in danger of extinction

The report launched during the CITES COP19 gave insights and analysis into the global trade in animals and plants regulated under the treaty. Trade in the CITES-listed species can have a wide range of conservation impacts, it highlighted.  

The most commonly documented type of positive impact was population increase. It was often associated with a recovery from an earlier decline driven by unsustainable or illegal harvest and trade.

Species population get a boost and helps in its stabilisation by regulated trade. 

The report gave examples of crocodile ranching programmes established in Tana County, Kenya and Zambezi valley in Zimbabwe. The programmes aimed to generate incentives for crocodile conservation and provide livelihood benefits to locals. 

The programme had the added effect of decreasing poaching pressure on other species. Common species for game, like small antelope, and commercially valuable species, such as elephants poached for income, also benefited. 

Populations of the American alligator saw a decline by the 1960s due to hunting and over-exploitation. The species was officially protected in 1967 and the only option for producing alligator leather was farming. 

This has proved to be a huge business success, but also a conservation success, with populations recovering to such an extent that they are now classified on the IUCN Red List as ‘Least Concern’.

Poorly managed trade can result in local and widespread population declines, as noted by the CITES Review of Significant Trade process.

Approximately 3.5 million CITES shipments were reported in direct trade by exporters from 2011-2020. 

This amounted to over 1.3 billion individual organisms (1.26 billion plants and 82 million animals) and an additional 279 million kg of products reported by weight (193 million kg of plants and 86 million kg of animals), according to the first-ever World Wildlife Trade Report. 

Read more: India demands removal of rosewood from CITES

The majority of trade involved individuals or parts and derivatives that were artificially propagated (for plants) or captive-produced (for animals bred or born in captivity).

Trade in wild-sourced individuals accounted for 18 per cent of all trade and was dominated by plants (81 per cent of global wild-sourced trade).

The report revealed that the proportion of wild-sourced plants in trade has decreased over the past 10 years to 4 per cent in terms of the number of individual plants. The vast majority of plants in trade are artificially propagated and are no longer ‘wild’. 

For animals, while captive breeding is increasing, a substantial proportion of trade is still in wild-sourced animals and this will require constant monitoring to improve our understanding of the world’s wildlife trade, the report cautioned.

The estimated export value of trade in CITES-listed species of $11.1 billion per year is comparable to trade in mainstream agricultural commodities such as cocoa beans valued at$8.5 billion in 2020.

Over half of the seizures in the last decade involved Appendix II species, indicated data from the CITES illegal trade database.

Addressing the causes that lead to these would promote the sustainable use and conservation of CITES-listed species.

It would also benefit indigenous people, local communities and others involved in the supply chains and would enable more effective and focused law enforcement efforts.

Read more: Many protected migratory species declining: Report

“Sustainable and legal trade in wildlife can be a critical contributor to the conservation of wild species and their habitats, to the livelihoods of rural communities that live with wildlife, as well as to national economies,” said Inger Andersen, United Nations under-secretary-general and executive director, UN Environment Programme. 

CITES works by regulating trade in the over 38,700 species that are listed in its three appendices.

The vast majority of these species, around 97 per cent, are in Appendix II. These are species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid over-utilisation and a future threat to their survival.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.