Protecting species from exploitative trade

Close up view of partial face, African elephant

Credit: wanderluster/GettyImages

An AHRC-funded project explores how international agreements can be more effective at reducing the harm done by the global wildlife trade.

The unsustainable and illegal trade in wildlife is contributing to biodiversity loss and extinctions.

But the existing legislation covering the trade isn’t up to the job of protecting species at risk.

The main international instrument to regulate wildlife trade is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Dr Tanya Wyatt, a green criminologist specialising in research on wildlife trafficking and animal abuse, says the current legislation is “just not working properly.”

Putting legislation into practice

CITES was set up in 1975 but still only 50% of the signatories have fully implemented it.

Dr Wyatt is principal investigator of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded ‘Lessons learned from the implementation of and compliance with CITES’ project.

Dr Wyatt says:

For me, the inspiration behind the project was that every three years CITES get together and every time they meet, they add more species.

The plight of many species, elephants, rhinoceros and so forth, is grim. So, it just can’t be working.

Learning lessons to better protect wildlife

Because of this Dr Wyatt set out to look for lessons that could be learned as well as best practice in the implementation of and compliance with CITES. She aimed to improve the convention and help to better protect wildlife.

As part of the study, Canada was selected as a case study because of:

  • its good practice on CITES
  • its public health approach to some wildlife imports
  • the protection of native CITES species.

Dr Wyatt says:

What we need to know is whether international parties have both CITES scientific and management authorities to assess and manage species risk?

Do parties prohibit violations? Do they have the means for confiscating wildlife and wildlife products in violation and do they impose meaningful penalties?

Progressive thinking required

CITES is also problematic as it focuses primarily on terrestrial animals with less consideration for marine species or plants, many of which are threatened. Animal welfare is also barely considered.

Dr Wyatt says:

It’s not progressive enough and it’s out of step with the science and public sentiment.

The world is facing a biodiversity crisis.

While the main cause of species extinction is habitat loss, the second cause is overexploitation, including poaching and the international illegal wildlife trade.

This has to stop.

In November, AHRC follow on funding begins. It consists of four workshops around the world exploring in partnership with global experts in more depth the findings and sharing the results of the original fellowship.

Dr Wyatt says:

If any of my recommendations were to be adopted that would be incredible.

Last updated: 11 October 2021

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