European Commission, Environment DG

Making trade bans on endangered species work

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New research suggests that socio-economic considerations as well as biological and trade criteria need to be taken into account in the implementation of international trade agreements. The research focuses on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which is the largest international agreement on species conservation.

CITES is implemented through several EU regulations1. It regulates trade in species and their derivative products (such as ivory or skin) through permits and certificates. It is designed to protect biodiversity and reduce extinction and covers over 30,000 species. Despite this, trade in some of these species continues, partly because much biodiversity in developing countries is outside protected areas. For example, in southern Africa, some 80 per cent of potential elephant range is outside protected areas.

Effective conservation is based on the concept of sustainability. At a basic level sustainable conservation means that the use and trade of endangered species can continue if it does not affect the conservation status of that species. However, both traditions and poverty in developing countries may mean that the use of some protected species is not a matter of choice.

The study identifies problems with the implementation of CITES in developing countries, but also finds that these mainly result from a lack of local community involvement. There is a need for education, appropriate national legislation (only 6 southern African countries have this in place) and economic incentives.

In the past, CITES trade bans have sometimes pushed trade underground and increased the value of products from affected species. For example, a total ban has produced some detrimental results for species such as the elephant, black rhino, leopard and Nile crocodile. In addition, farmers may not want these animals on their land. However, in the case of the leopard and rhino, the introduction of quotas for hunting trophies has meant landowners consider the animals a valuable asset.

To alleviate these problems the study suggests a need for community support and the devolution of responsibility from the state to the communal level. This approach has proven successful in boosting biodiversity in countries including Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana. However, species whose products and derivatives are of particularly high commercial value can still face conservation problems despite economic incentives. This is the case for species used for traditional medicines such as tigers, Asiatic bears, the devil's claw plant and the African cherry. In these cases, community cooperation and economic incentives are more difficult to achieve.

CITES and other policies should base their protection on socio-economic considerations as well as biological/trade criteria. However, tools are needed to identify species which will benefit from trade, as are mechanisms to facilitate sustainable legal trade at a community level.

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