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The endangered species trade

ELEPHANTS, rhinos, sharks, tigers, lizards, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, monkeys, various birds and plants all made an appearance on the agenda of the triennial conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).


At the meeting, held this year in Bangkok from March 4th-14th, governments of 178 member states agreed to add 343 species of plants and animals to CITES’ appendices I and II. There they joined 33,000 species (5,000 animals and 28,000 plants) that already crowded it. All of these species are in danger of extinction. Listing by CITES ensures that trade in them is either banned or strictly monitored.

At least that is the theory. But the abiding impression left by a CITES meeting is that no one knows how best to protect beleaguered wildlife. CITES has failed to curtail, let alone prevent, illegal trade—especially in species for which demand and market price are extremely high, and they climb ever higher, the closer to extinction a species becomes.

Demand is growing fast in some of the world’s most dynamic economies, notably China, where parts of many endangered species are used in traditional medicine. As Chinese spending power grows, time is running out for CITES to stem the flow that is endangering, for example, elephants, rhinos and tigers—all  traded for their body parts and mainly sold to markets in China, Vietnam and Thailand.

Elephants and rhinos, which bounced back from the brink of extinction in the 1970s, are again under threat. The illegal ivory trade is reported to have more than doubled sine 2007, and increased threefold since 1998. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 elephants are killed every year in Africa, from a population of 400,000.


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