By Susan Lieberman
In the wildlife trafficking policy debate in the U.S., the majority of attention to date has been on the ivory and horn of Africa’s elephants and rhinos. Given the devastating losses those species have suffered this is perhaps not surprising. That attention has engaged diverse parties from around the globe, including the Obama Administration, African elephant range states, the EU, and conservation NGOs like the Wildlife Conservation Society, for whom I work. WCS’s 96 Elephants campaign has attracted some 170 partners to raise awareness of this critical issue.
However, elephants and rhinos are not the only species threatened by illegal international trade. Numerous other species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and others are also subject to trafficking, and they too need increased attention and political and financial support. In testimony I submitted to a meeting of the President’s Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, I detailed some of the species whose illegal trade is under the radar but still are suffering the effects of wildlife trafficking.
The final remaining tigers — only about 3,000 remain in the wild globally — are now threatened by illegal killing for their bones and other body parts. Between 2000 and 2013, more than 27,000 seizures of tiger derivatives were reported to CITES, mainly originating in China and Vietnam. Tiger skins are the most commonly reported seizures item from other range states, followed by bones.
All eight species of pangolin, which occur across tropical South and Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, are listed by IUCN on its Red List of Threatened Species as threatened with extinction, as well as on the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora(CITES). They are traded for their scales for traditional medicine. Their meat, which is also believed to have medicinal properties, is also eaten as a high-status item. In the last decade alone, it is believed that more than one million pangolins have been removed from the wild, with the vast majority entering international trade, much of which is illegal.
More than 50 percent of the approximately 330 species of tortoises and freshwater turtles are listed on the IUCN Red List as threatened, with international trade as the primary threat. They are traded primary as food and as pets, and much of this trade is illegal. This illegality includes both animals that are trafficked and those that are traded using what appear to be legal permits when in fact the animals have been taken from the wild and falsely identified as captive bred.
Many species of birds are threatened by illegal capture and trade for the pet trade. The straw-headed bulbul, a Southeast Asian bird that was locally abundant across much of its range until as recently as two decades ago, is now thought to be extinct in Thailand and Java, and virtually extinct on Sumatra. Huge demand for the African gray parrot has caused the species to lose almost half of its population in recent years due to extremely high capture rates with associated mortality due to harsh trapping conditions and poor handling of captive birds.
Between 1975 and 2005, 1.3 million African grey parrots were reported to be legally exported from Africa, and actual numbers removed from the forests of Central and West Africa are likely at least double that due to unreported trade and high mortality in capture and transport. Central American populations of the Scarlet Macaw in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize have been reduced to isolated sub-populations of fewer than 1,000 wild individuals in total—due to illegal trade in this endangered highly attractive bird. More....