A multinational, multidisciplinary team of scientists has published new research that provides important insights into the harm that the legal wildlife trade is currently causing to global conservation and sustainability efforts. The group includes members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Specialized Groups of the Species Survival Commission aimed at highlighting the risks posed by the legal but unsustainable trade in thousands of species.
The study was published this month in the journal Journal of Environmental ManagementA systematic review of the tools, safeguards and legal frameworks that currently exist to ensure the sustainable use of live wild animals and their body parts.
The researchers found that for the vast majority of cases, legal trade in wild animal species is not supported by any rigorous evidence of sustainability, with data lacking on wildlife export volumes, data on wild animal populations, and evidence-based impact assessments. Trade being a particular concern.
“Wildlife exploitation represents one of the greatest threats to species survival. However, legal trade is often automatically taken as sustainable despite the lack of evidence to confirm that this is actually the case,” says Dr Alice Hughes, Senior Scientist. and Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong.
“Our research shines a stark light on the systemic lack of urgently required regulatory safeguards to ensure that legal trade does not lead to a decline in wildlife populations. While many agreements focusing on wildlife include ‘sustainable use’ claims in reality, these agreements rarely evidence or use of precautionary principles to prevent further over-exploitation of the species.
While much attention is given to combating the illegal wildlife trade, many of the same challenges are also evident in the legal wildlife trade. The global legal wildlife trade is a large and thriving business estimated by some to be worth around US$400 billion annually.
The risks of unsustainable legal trade have been recognized and built upon by several United Nations agreements, which aim to reduce global biodiversity loss. However, wildlife exploitation is still considered the second largest threat to global diversity and its vital contributions to people, right after climate change.
Dr Mark Olea of the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change in Bonn, Germany and a contributing scientist says: “Our study provides evidence of 183 species that show unsustainable trade in a wide range of wildlife groups – from mammals such as the mountain red fowl to trophy hunting and artisanal products to invertebrates such as Clown shrimp for the global exotic pet trade.”
“We found that current legal trade was not supported by rigorous evidence of sustainability for examples of this species with a lack of data on export levels and wild population monitoring data precluding any true assessments of sustainable use. These examples are only an indicative subset and should be considered the tip of a larger iceberg. We expect Further scrutiny reveals that many wildlife species are being exploited at unsustainable levels.”
The authors caution against the assumption that wildlife species can withstand large amounts in the absence of data, and stress the need for appropriate application of the precautionary principle to prevent population declines and species extinctions, as well as to enable economically viable wildlife trade in the long term. These species are essential to the health of the ecosystem. For the above reasons, population monitoring is essential to enable sustainable trade and not to jeopardize the provision of important ecosystem services.
Dr Vincent Nijman, a contributing scientist and professor of anthropology at Oxford Brookes University in the UK, says: “Understanding what wild animals are being traded, from where, and at what sizes, as well as the impact on the long-term viability of species, will be critical to slowing species loss. from across the planet. In particular, a more precautionary approach is needed to halt biodiversity decline, backed by a revised proof-of-burden.”
“This should place the need on traders and importers to demonstrate sustainability to allow trade, not conservation scientists and practitioners to disclose unsustainability, or customs officers to prove that exporting is against regulations.”
To help address the current situation, the scientists identified four key areas that should be strengthened to achieve this goal: (1) accurate data collection and population analysis; (ii) linking trade quotas to IUCN and international agreements; (3) improved databases and trade compliance; and (iv) enhancing understanding of trade embargoes, market forces, and species alternatives.
Professor David Edwards, a contributing scientist and Professor of Conservation Sciences at the University of Sheffield, UK, says: “There is an urgent need to create awareness among decision-makers about the lack of sustainability in much of the legal trade in wildlife. Action is required to adapt relevant regulatory frameworks, such as CITES, to ensure the continued survival of many threatened species.”
“There are no winners from unsustainable wildlife collection and trade: without sustainable management not only will species or populations become extinct, but communities that depend on these species will lose their livelihoods.”
Alice Hughes et al., Determining the Sustainability of the Legal Wildlife Trade, Journal of Environmental Management (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2023.117987
Provided by Leibniz-Institut zur Analyze des Biodiversitätswandels
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