Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Between 1998 and 2007, a recent study reports, more than 35 million rare species were exported out of Southeast Asia legally. Of this, at least 30 million were taken from the wild rather than from captive breeding programs.
Vincent Nijman, the conservation biologist who authored the report, argues that current regulations on the legal wildlife trade are too lenient and lack the resources necessary for realistic enforcement.Southeast Asia is a hub for the international wildlife trade; an industry fueled by globalization and increased economic prosperity in the region. Rare animals are sold for food, pets, and medicine.
In 1975, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was established to oversee the wildlife trade. The treaty allows for the exportation of rare species as long as authorities can establish that the trade does not have a significant effect on populations. Such a report is known as a "non-detriment finding."
Though 175 nations, including every country in Southeast Asia, are members of CITES, enforcing non-detriment findings has proven to be difficult.
The problem is that many countries lack the resources necessary to conduct an adequate study of traded animals and the findings that result, Nijman argues, are often too lenient.
He explains that:
The only thing we know about many of these species is that they are being harvested in the millions...we let this trade happen—supposedly regulated by CITES. But we must be honest, we have no idea if it is sustainable.
35 Million is Conservative
Navjot Sodhi, a conservation biologist from the National University of Singapore, commented that, while Nijman's report offers one of the most comprehensive views of the legal wildlife trade in the region yet compiled, it suffers from its sole reliance on volunteered data. In reality, he explained, "trade is a few orders of magnitude more than what is reported."
This, of course, does not even begin to address the problems posed by the illegal wildlife trade. Chris Shepherd, a regional director for TRAFFIC, commented that the market for illegally traded species is "absolutely enormous." As a species become more threatened and harder to find, its price on the black market increases dramatically. Penalties for poaching and trading animals illegally are paltry compared to the fortunes that can be made by breaking the law.
Shepherd commented that he "can barely give one example of a species that is being sustainably traded in the region...there is no check and balance in place to make sure these species won't be wiped out."
Increasing the severity of penalties is one obvious step to curbing this dangerous trade but finding funding for more robust enforcement will be a challenge. In his report, Nijman suggests small tariffs be placed on official exports to raise money for non-detriment studies and enforcement operations.
Clearly, if something is not done, the state of the world's critically endangered animals will be much worse at the end of 2010.
Read more about the international wildlife trade:
Could an Out of Control US Wildlife Trade Cause the Next Swine Flu?
China Stepping Up to Halt Internet WIldlife Trade
India Sets Up Wildlife Crime Control Bureau