CITES 18th Conference of the Parties

The 18th Conference of the Parties for CITES convened August 17-28, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. Read summary highlights and analysis here.

Following the meeting, final resolutions from the CITES CoP18 have now been released. The CITES Secretariat has published Amendments to Appendices I, II, III as an Annex to facilitate amendments by Parties for their national legislation. The new Appendices will take effect on November 26 2019 at which time, the CITES Secretariat will replace the Appendices on its website.

To support the meetings’ strategic agenda items, OMP-IWT and collaborators produced a policy briefing document to inform future CITES policy decisions, based on the OMP-IWT led global horizon scan of emerging illegal wildlife trade issues.

Next scheduled CITES meetings are: 31st meeting of the Animals Committee (July 13-16, 2020); Joint sessions of Animals and Plants Committees (July 17, 2020); 25th meeting of the Plants Committee (July 20-23, 2020); 73rd meeting of the Standing Committee (October 4-9, 2020).

Targeting wildlife crime interventions through geographic profiling

By: Stephanie S. Romañach (Research Ecologist, U.S. Geological Survey), Sally C. Faulkner (Lecturer, Queen Mary University of London), Michael C. A. Stevens (PhD Student, Queen Mary University of London), Peter A. Lindsey (Conservation Initiatives Director, Wildlife Conservation Network), & Steven C. Le Comber (Senior Lecturer, Queen Mary University of London)

 

Seeing an animal hanging lifelessly from a snare is a heart-wrenching experience. Knowing that most animals caught in snares are left to rot without being used for meat or any other purpose might be worse.

Over an eight-year period, 2001 – 2009, we recorded 10,231 incidents of illegal hunting in a wildlife conservation area in southeastern Zimbabwe, the Savé Valley Conservancy (SVC). Sixty-three percent of these incidents used snares, which is an illegal form of hunting in Zimbabwe. Almost fifty-nine percent of animals caught in snares were left to rot on the snare lines. What if we could prevent these unnecessary losses?

The SVC is home to many iconic wildlife species such as elephants, lions, rhinos, giraffes, and buffalos. However, with the onset of political turmoil in the early 2000s, large sections of wildlife fencing surrounding SVC were removed, enough to make over 400,000 wire snares, many of which were recovered by anti-poaching teams. We found illegal hunting to be widespread throughout SVC. During the period of our study, we discovered the deaths of at least 6,454 wild animals, equating to a minimum of USD 1 million in financial losses annually – the ecological and financial scale of the problem is massive. However, in an area like SVC, which covers 3,450 km2, tackling the problem of illegal hunting is challenging.

Lioness with snare around her neck and visible snare wound (Photo credit: E. Droge, Zambia Carnivore Programme)

We recently successfully tested the application of geographic profiling, a statistical technique used originally in criminology, to help prioritize search areas where illegal hunters might live. The method is typically used by law enforcement agencies to help prioritize lists of suspects undergoing investigation, based on the pattern of serial crimes (e.g., murder). Typically, for example, criminals commit crimes within a reasonable distance of their homes or places of work. In the case of wildlife crime, illegal hunters are more likely to live outside protected areas, but travel into protected areas to hunt. We modified our use of geographic profiling to address this issue of “commuter crime”, where illegal hunters are likely to reside outside of SVC, but “commute” to the conservancy to setup their snares. We did this by testing decreasing probabilities of the poachers living inside compared to outside SVC. In general, a geoprofile results from two processes: spatial clustering of the poaching locations, and finding the sources of the clusters, or where poachers are likely to live. The iterative process we implemented initially randomly assigns poaching incidents to clusters, and then based on the clustering, the model estimates the sources of these clusters. Secondly, depending on the source locations, poaching incidents are then reassigned to clusters. These steps are repeated thousands of times until the model fits the data well.

Example geoprofile with lighter areas highlighting the areas that should be prioritized for search (S. Romañach)

Using geographic profiling, we were able to identify where 50% of the illegal hunters reside after searching only 11% of the area. To do this, we used a subset of our illegal hunting records where the identity of the hunter was known, allowing us to test the methodology. We found that we could successfully identify the villages where the hunters were coming from, based on the locations of the snares. Given the size of most protected areas, having a system to narrow down potential search areas for the sources of illegal hunting can greatly reduce required resources and more effectively focus conservation actions.

Interviews we conducted with illegal hunters surrounding SVC revealed that although some respondents expressed a desire to purchase alcohol (15%) with the income they made from illegal hunting, most respondents used the money to buy food (97%) and clothes (44%).  Understanding the drivers of illegal hunting can direct us to solutions to the problem. Information about where illegal hunters may live can help us target villages, streamlining and effectively utilizing law enforcement and community engagement efforts. This is particularly valuable because resources for law enforcement in Africa are already scarce. By employing techniques like geographic profiling, in combination with local intelligence, the use of limited resources can be much more easily prioritized.

We dedicate this article to our friend and colleague, Steve Le Comber, who left this world much too soon.

Disclaimer: Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Article edited by: Nafeesa Esmail

Is the demand for vulture parts in Nigeria affecting regional vulture populations?

By: Steffen Oppel (Senior Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science @SteffOpp @RSPBScience); Cloé Pourchier (Program Officer, Sahara Conservation Fund @Sahara_CF), Joseph Onoja (Director, Technical Programmes, Nigerian Conservation Foundation @ojay_78 @ncfnigeria); Solomon Adefolu (Principal Conservation Officer, Nigerian Conservation Foundation @NatureSolomon); Adejo Rose Wisdom (Student Intern, AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute)

 

Vultures are globally threatened and populations in Africa have plummeted over the last three decades. Unlike in Asia, where vultures have disappeared largely due to a single cause (poisoning from ingesting a painkiller medicine fed to cows), African vulture populations have succumbed to a variety of human threats – including the illegal trade in vulture body parts.

Vulture body parts are purchased for traditional medicine and other belief-based uses. Consumers expect relief from a variety of physical and mental ailments and greater success in life as they absorb the vultures’ abilities to ‘see into the future’. Vultures are therefore often the most sought-after bird species in trade. While the trade in resident African vultures has long been known and acknowledged to be a concern to these populations from Nigeria to South Africa, it is so far unclear to what extent migratory populations are affected by the demand for vulture body parts in Africa.

Head of a White-backed Vulture offered for sale at a market in Nigeria (Photo credit: J. Onoja)

The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is the only long-distance migratory vulture in Africa, Asia or Europe, and its populations have not only declined in Africa, but also in parts of its European breeding range. Since 2011, BirdLife partners from the Balkans have been working to protect and study Egyptian Vultures, and in 2016, a new project was launched to address threats to the species in 14 countries along its flyway. Based on satellite-tracking of birds from the Balkans, the wintering range of Egyptian Vultures includes Niger and Nigeria – and  evidence shows that the direct persecution for the market trade in Nigeria affects Egyptian Vultures from Europe. Until now, however, we have had little information about the potential magnitude of the threat of the trade.

In 2018, we conducted surveys on several markets in Nigeria and Niger to determine the magnitude of the vulture trade with a particular focus on Egyptian Vultures. During the surveys, we first assessed how many stalls at each market sold any vulture part, then quantified the number of stalls that either have in the past or would sell Egyptian Vulture parts in the future. Sellers were asked about the origin of vulture parts on sale. Lastly, we asked about trends of vulture populations and what the sellers’ perceptions were about the causes of these trends.

Bird wing offered for sale as ‘Egyptian Vulture’ in Niger (Photo credit: A. R. M. Zabeirou)

As expected, the vulture trade was about 10 times more prominent in Nigeria than in Niger. Among the 19 markets surveyed in Nigeria, comprising ~26,000 stalls or sellers, 397 (1.5%) offered vulture products for sale. Although no Egyptian Vultures were available at the time of the survey, all sellers stated that they would sell Egyptian Vultures if their suppliers would deliver them. In contrast, in Niger, only 3 of the 2950 stalls found among the 3 markets surveyed (0.1%) offered Egyptian Vulture parts, some of which were clearly not Egyptian Vultures, but actually other species.

Market sellers in Niger and Nigeria perceive the most likely reason for declining vulture populations in these two countries to be the trade of vulture parts (Source: S. Oppel)

The main reason why we found no Egyptian Vulture parts on markets in Nigeria is because they have become very rare. All sellers agreed that the number of Egyptian Vultures had decreased and that they had become too difficult to find. Although sellers were willing to sell the species, the hunters that supply the sellers no longer encountered Egyptian Vultures. According to the sellers themselves, the main reason why the species has disappeared is because of direct persecution for trade, medicine, rituals or food. In Niger, most people also recognised that much of the hunting and trade that decimated local vulture populations was driven by demand and hunters from Nigeria.

Map illustrating the locations of the markets surveyed in Nigeria and Niger (blue dots) and the source countries of the three vulture species, as perceived by market merchants (white to red color gradient) (Source: S. Oppel)

When sellers were asked where the vultures they sold originated from, only a fraction was reported to come from Nigeria directly. Because Nigerian vulture populations have now become scarce, market stalls in Nigeria are being supplied with vultures hunted not only in the neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso, but also from further afield, including Mali, Senegal, and the Central African Republic. Thus, the high vulture demand in Nigeria is likely to be affecting vulture populations in a large part of sub-Saharan Africa.

In Nigeria, vultures are technically protected by law, with both the killing and trade of vulture species being illegal. However, this law is not enforced and without a reduction in demand, it is unlikely that the persecution will cease in the near future. To put this threat in context, if all the 397 Nigerian market sellers willing to sell Egyptian Vultures sold even just one bird a year, the entire eastern European population of Egyptian Vultures (only around 60 pairs) could go extinct rapidly. A new project has recently started to reduce the trade in vulture parts in Nigeria.

 

Article edited by: Nafeesa Esmail

Illegal international trade in seahorses continues despite CITES regulations

By: Ting-Chun Kuo (Assistant Professor, Institute of Marine Affairs and Resources Management, National Taiwan Ocean University, @TingChunKuo); Sarah J. Foster (Project Seahorse, Institute for Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia @sjanefoster @ProjectSeahorse); Anita Kar Yan Wan (School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-Sen University); Amanda C.J. Vincent (Project Seahorse, Institute for Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia @AmandaVincent1)

 

Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) are a group of marine fishes that are unique in their body shape, life history and uses. With a bony body of a fish, head of a horse and tail of a monkey, seahorses have attracted many people’s curiosities. In contrast to many other animals, male seahorses become pregnant and some seahorse species are seasonally monogamous (having only one mate at a time). Seahorses are also used in traditional medicine, which is believed to be effective against infertility, asthma, and many other illnesses. Thus, seahorses have become an important income source for many fishers and traders.

Seahorses have faced increasing pressures from various anthropogenic impacts. More than 37 million seahorses per year are estimated to be extracted globally, mostly as incidental catch from non-selective fishing practices. A majority of the seahorses caught are traded for traditional medicine, for curios or to be kept in aquariums. This large-scale global seahorse trade has resulted in the whole genus (Hippocampus spp.) being listed in the Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This means all international exports of wild seahorses are only permitted when export countries can ensure the trade is sustainable. Subsequently, after listing seahorses on CITES, many countries have banned their seahorse exports. Most notably, Thailand, the biggest seahorse source country on record, decided to suspend their exports in January 2016.

Dried seahorses in the traditional Chinese medicine store, Hong Kong (Photo credit: A. K. Y. Wan)

But, have the widespread export bans in the historic seahorse source countries affected the trade worldwide, and if so, how? To investigate if such bans are enforced and to ascertain the impacts, at the end of 2017 our team carried out a survey in Hong Kong, the world’s largest known seahorse importer. We interviewed 189 traders, including traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) retailers, wholesalers, and importers. We asked the traders who had bought stocks of dried seahorses in 2016 and 2017 where these seahorses originated from. We also asked the traders to quantify their seahorse purchase volume for each year, and also the volume from each source.

Strikingly, we found that a majority of the dried seahorses in Hong Kong might be illegally imported. Traders reported that their biggest sources included Thailand, Philippines, mainland China, Australia, and India – yet most of these countries have banned their seahorse exports. After considering the trade volume, we estimated that at least 98% of the dried seahorses in Hong Kong might be illegally sourced.

Dried seahorses in the traditional Chinese medicine store, Hong Kong (Photo credit: A. K. Y. Wan)

These results are not completely surprising, considering dried seahorses are known to be very easily carried across borders. Because of their small size and form (being dried), smugglers can simply transport seahorses in their suitcases or pockets. This means the enforcement of any trade regulations is becoming increasingly difficult and requires strong surveillance. When countries declare bans without appropriate enforcement in place, this can lead the trade to move to black or illicit markets rather than reducing it. During our survey, some respondents reported that they could no longer buy seahorses from legal importers – so they had to turn to “the people with suitcases on the street” for new supplies. Such changes in the import and domestic supply chain makes the monitoring and management of trades even more difficult. Our findings provide evidence that current legislation is not well enforced and the magnitude of trade in seahorses may have remained the same as it was before the bans.

More importantly, if non-selective fishing practices are left unregulated, sustainable use of seahorses is not possible. The greatest threat to seahorses is bycatch of indiscriminate fisheries, such as trawling. Therefore, as long as fishing practices continue as usual, seahorses will still be caught even if demand can be reduced. Improving current fishing management and practices is likely to be more critical for sustainable seahorse trade than imposing a ban without the adequate enforcement measures in place.

Original article publication: Foster, S. J., Kuo, T. C., Wan, A. K. Y., & Vincent, A. C. (2019). Global seahorse trade defies export bans under CITES action and national legislation. Marine Policy, 103, 33-41.

 

Article edited by: Nafeesa Esmail

Understanding the global Illegal caviar trade: CITES labelling system not implemented

By: Hiromi Shiraishi (Programme Officer, TRAFFIC) and Lindsey Harris (former Programme Officer, TRAFFIC) @TRAFFIC_WLTrade

 

Although it has been 20 years since all sturgeon and paddlefish species were listed on the CITES Appendices and the international trade of caviar has been regulated, the conservation status of sturgeons does not seem to have improved. What should be done to assist in the recovery of sturgeon populations?

Sturgeon and paddlefish (Acipenseriformes spp.) are an ancient group of fish that is found in coastal and inland waters across the northern hemisphere. For people around the world, caviar (unfertilised sturgeon and paddlefish roe) is a gourmet delicacy and is one of the most expensive wildlife products. However, populations of sturgeon and paddlefish have declined globally due to, among other threats, habitat degradation and overexploitation, including illegal fishing for caviar and meat. Of the 27 species of sturgeon and paddlefish, 85% are on the brink of extinction. In response to this, and to ensure trade is sustainable, all species of sturgeon and paddlefish have been listed in CITES Appendix I or II since 1998.

Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii), Black Sea, Tendra, Ukraine (Photo credit: A. Nekrasov / WWF)

In addition to the CITES listing, systems have been established to support the effective implementation of the listing; one of these is a universal labelling system. A CITES Resolution recommends that all Parties implement this system for sturgeon caviar (wild sourced and derived from aquaculture) for international and domestic trade, so the commodity is traceable. Although CITES Resolutions are not directly legally binding, the labelling system has been transposed into national legislation, and thus is mandatory, in some countries, including within the EU.

Global caviar production and trade dynamics have changed over the last decades with the rapid growth of aquaculture production. According to CITES trade data, caviar sourced from aquaculture accounted for 95% of total global imports by weight in 2015. However, caviar sourced from wild sturgeons is still traded and there is little information available to determine whether this is legal, sustainable and traceable.

In fact, despite the introduction of CITES regulations and the rapid growth of aquaculture production, illegal fishing of sturgeon and the illegal trade in wild caviar have remained a serious threat to sturgeon and paddlefish. The Caspian Sea sturgeon population has reportedly continued to decrease dramatically despite the CITES listing. Anecdotal evidence suggests the occurrence of poaching in the Russian Federation, and a recent study indicates that consumer preference for wild caviar is a key factor driving illegal trade. Prevalence of the illegal caviar trade has also been linked to corruption.

In order to obtain a better understanding of current global caviar markets, TRAFFIC and WWF conducted a study to identify geographic hotspots for the legal and illegal trade in caviar and to review compliance with the CITES caviar labelling system. Rapid assessments were then carried out in six locations (China, France, Germany, Japan, the Russian Federation and the USA) between December 2017 and February 2018, through online and physical market surveys and a review of the available information on relevant legislation.

This research found that of these six countries, only two (Germany and France) have implemented the CITES caviar labelling system for domestic trade, even though all of these countries are Parties to CITES. In addition, even where the CITES caviar labelling system has been implemented for domestic trade, there were several instances suggesting the caviar labels did not fully comply with the CITES labelling requirements. These included instances where: i) the containers appeared to have no seals or packaging to show visual evidence of opening, and ii) the required lot identification number was missing from the label.

Caviar for sale in Geneva, Switzerland (Photo credit: H. Shiraishi / TRAFFIC)

Furthermore, the study highlighted that, even when applied, the current implementation of the CITES caviar labelling system and related registration requirements may not be sufficient to combat illegal trade effectively, thus requiring further and more thorough examination. As global caviar production and trade dynamics continue to change, CITES Parties also need to consider making changes to the labelling system by revising the CITES Resolution to ensure consistency of quality of the labels and to minimise the risk of fraud.

While many people regard illegal fishing and trade in caviar as problems of the past, issues continue to persist. Strong support from the international community is needed to combat this illegal trade to help ensure the trade is not harmful to wild populations and to subsequently promote the recovery of global sturgeon populations.

 

Article edited by: Nafeesa Esmail

Solutions for managing shark and ray trade through molecular species identification techniques

By: Andhika Prima Prasetyo, Researcher, Ministry for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia; Doctoral student, University of Salford

 

Located between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Indonesia is at the epicentre of marine biodiversity, making it a priority area for global conservation efforts. About one-fifth of all Chondrichthyes species (the cartilaginous fish: sharks, rays, skates and chimera) are found in this region, with more species still awaiting discovery.

Indonesia is one of the world’s major fishing countries, consisting of approximately two-thirds ocean; it is also the world’s largest producer of sharks and rays (Figure 1). Sharks and rays are mostly caught as bycatch in other fisheries, but their economic value cannot be underappreciated. Even as bycatch, sharks and rays are valuable and marketable. In some places, a shift from bycatch to target catch has been observed.

Figure 1: Shark and ray landing in Indonesia 1950-2016 (Credit: A. P. Prasetyo; Source: DGCF-MMAF, 2018; FAO, 2018).

While fins are notoriously the most prized product derived from sharks and rays, every part of the animal is valued in Indonesia, including the meat, skin, cartilage, liver oil and offal. Products are processed in several ways and produced into a variety of products, such as hisit (shredded collagen fibres of fin), peeled fin, shark steak, salted meat, fish ball, squalene oil, cartilage powder, dog treats, belts, samurai sword handles and other accessories. Many of these non-fin products are used domestically. In 2016, shark and ray landings amounted to 132,746 tonnes while only 3,003 tonnes of shark products were recorded as exports (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Landing and export amounts of Indonesian sharks and rays in 2016 (AFQQI-MMAF, 2017)

Sharks and their cartilaginous relatives are subject to escalating global capture and trade.  Their slow life history traits make them particularly vulnerable to overfishing and thus sharks are recognized as one of the world’s most threatened species groups. Aimed to curb trade-driven over-utilization and population declines, 30 shark and ray species have been listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and with the possibly of this increasing in the near future. This means international trade restrictions are applied, such that contracting countries to CITES are required to ensure trade is sustainable, without impacting wild populations.

However, in practice, export restrictions present a challenge for the authorities to ensure compliance with such international trade measures. This is particularly the case in Indonesia, considering its large volumes of products, diverse species and processed products, and many fishing and trading ports. Many products are highly processed, which subsequently loses key visual identification characteristics, making monitoring and implementation very challenging (Figure 3 & 4).

Figure 3: Shark derived products. (Source: A. P. Prasetyo/MMAF/Seafdec)

Figure 4: Ray derived products. (Source: A.P. Prasetyo/MMAF/Seafdec)

In Indonesia, the Coastal and Marine Resources Management Body (CMRMB, locally called “Balai/Loka Pengelolaan Sumberdaya Pesisir dan Laut”), is the Governmental technical unit tasked with shark and ray trade monitoring. There are 6 CMRMB offices located across Indonesia, with 17 regional operating units (Figure 5). Staff at these units are responsible for issuing trade recommendation letters, which authorizes shipments for transportation (domestically and internationally). This is a difficult job and requires high volumes of fisheries products to be handled, with the necessity of rapid species identification to ensure that CITES-listed species are not illegally and unsustainably traded.

Figure 5: Summary of shark and ray trade handled by CMRMB (Muttaqin et.al., 2018).

Between 2014 and 2017, the Serang CMRMB unit in Java successfully stopped, predominately through visual identification, approximately 250,000 individuals of 4 CITES-listed species:  oceanic white-tip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus), hammerhead shark (Sphyrna sp.), thresher shark (Alopias sp.) and silky shark (C. falciformis).

A key challenge is that for many of these products, it is impossible to distinguish species by visual identification alone. CMRMB does not currently have molecular facilities to aid species identification, but since 2015 they have contracted other organizations to conduct genetic investigations to support CITES implementation. However, genetic testing is both time-consuming and financially unfeasible for regular use. It takes 3+ weeks to receive results and costs £110 per sample. Some CMRMB offices are located far from laboratory facilities and since the exporters are pushed to ship their cargo as quickly as possible, these time scales are not compatible with industry. The turnaround time for results also depends on the type of product. Some products need extra protocols to extract the DNA, such as dried fin, mixed hisit, dried skin, cartilage and oil.

Acknowledging this capacity gap, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), in the UK, has been working with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of Salford since 2018, on a project funded by the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, to tackle the illegal and unsustainable shark trade in Indonesia. One component of the project is the development of a cost-effective molecular technique to rapidly identify shark species in trade, which can be practically implemented at export, and support CITES implementation and combatting of illegal trade.

At present, there are three types of genetic techniques used to identify shark and ray products: DNA Barcoding, Mini-DNA Barcoding and Species-specific PCR. DNA Barcoding involves sequencing a unique stretch of DNA for species identification. DNA Barcoding nearly always works on wet or dried, unprocessed fins, but often fails with dried, processed fins or other highly processed products that are likely to contain highly degraded DNA. For such samples, mini-DNA Barcoding is more suitable where two short DNA fragments are sequenced. A species-specific polymerase chain reaction (ss-PCR) is an approach that does not involve DNA sequencing and could reduce analysis cost. This approach amplifies DNA from target species and can identify 9 species of CITES-listed sharks. 9,200 shark fin by-products were tested by mini-DNA Barcoding in Hong Kong and revealed that CITES-listed sharks are still commonly being traded, such as scalloped and smooth hammerheads.

Over the next 3 years, this collaborative project will focus on applying, modifying and improving the existing molecular approaches in search of a cost-effective genetic approach that is suitable for Indonesia, and potentially other regions.

Andhika Prima Prasetyo is a researcher at the Center for Fisheries Research, Agency for Marine and Fisheries Research and Human Resources, Ministry for Marine Affairs and Fisheries – Republic of Indonesia. Currently, he is pursuing his PhD as an Industrial Sponsored PhD student in the School of Science, Engineering and Environment, at the University of Salford under the supervision of Professor Stefano Mariani, Dr Allan McDevitt and Dr Joanna Murray. A sincere thank you to Dr Adeline Seah, Ms Hollie Booth and Ms Nafeesa Esmail for their valuable review and contribution.

Hiding under the shell: not enough to protect the ploughshare tortoise

By: Angelo Ramy Mandimbihasina, Conservation Scientist, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

 

A Malagasy proverb, “Sokatra ilatsaham-baratra, henoy izany ry hazon-damosiko” means “the tortoise is well protected inside their shell and even thunder will not affect them”. However, not all tortoises can protect themselves from harm. The ploughshare tortoise is one example.

The ploughshare tortoise is terrestrial and endemic to an area of 160 km2 inside Baly Bay National Park, North-western Madagascar. This species (Astrochelys yniphora), has been classified by IUCN as Critically Endangered (CR), listed on Appendix 1 of CITES and protected locally by law – it is not permitted to harvest, captively rear or sell individuals. Its CR status is because the species’ natural population size is less than 1000 and continuously declining. Our recent research, a population study using distance sampling, in combination with seizure data, has concluded that the wild ploughshare tortoise population has declined from 1100 to close to 500 in about 10 years, because of poaching. These findings suggest that most of the trafficked animals supplying the illegal international wildlife trade originate from the wild, and are mainly destined for Southeast Asian countries.

Ploughshare tortoise. Photo credit: A. R. Mandimbihasina

Another driver of the drastic decline in ploughshare tortoise populations is the anthropogenic Allee effect. In other words, this species’ rarity is causing a high demand in destination countries, which raises prices locally. Rather than continuing to invest in farming, people living around the tortoise’s habitat may prefer to search for even just one tortoise, which has a greater value than their annual agricultural production, although this action can be very risky. Combined with other threats such as human-induced fires, ploughshare tortoise poaching may lead to the species’ extinction in the wild.

If we draw out the system of ploughshare tortoise poaching, we can distinguish the different actors involved. Locally, some people, known as “poachers”, search within the tortoise’s natural habitats for individuals. These poachers sell any harvested tortoises to intermediaries who are from either a nearby village or larger town and have connections enabling them to supply bigger customers or traders with the means to export tortoises.

In 2012, a conservation and management plan for the species was created, approved by the Ministry of Environment, Ecology and Forest, and adapted to fit the local situation. Captive breeding, scientific research, anti-poaching patrols as well as political advocacy have since been undertaken. Public awareness has also been used as a tool to explain to local villagers that they are losing their valuable biodiversity, which poses other ecological consequences to the ecosystem. An intact ecosystem is necessary to attract tourists and ultimately improve the region’s economy.

As an example, to reduce the threats, discourage poachers, and to better understand what is happening in the ecosystem, patrolling by local villagers, park rangers and military was initiated using smartphones to record patrol data. Data are uploaded into SMART, a package used to store, analyse and report results to support the planning of subsequent activities to reduce threats. This package can also be used to record any law enforcement actions taken and compile all results to evaluate the efficacy of the conservation interventions.

Ploughshare tortoise. Photo credit: A. R. Mandimbihasina

During village meetings and public awareness sessions, income-generating activities relating to farming or fishing practices were proposed to local villagers to increase their incomes and yields. The belief is that, if villagers are better off, poaching numbers will decrease because they will not want to continuously risk their lives.

To increase law enforcement and curb associated corruption, advocacy must be carried out locally, regionally and nationally, to convince people and the responsible government authorities at all levels to act to reduce this threat. Support is needed for an international campaign to reduce ploughshare tortoise demand and increase illegal wildlife trade control measures in airports and border crossings.

 

Article edited by: Nafeesa Esmail

First Americas regional conference on the illegal wildlife trade

On October 3-4, 2019, Peru hosted the First Americas Regional Conference on the Illegal Trade in Wildlife in Lima. It was organized by the Government of Peru, in cooperation with the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Wildlife Conservation Society.

The Conference was the first regional meeting of the Americas on the issue of illegal wildlife trade, as a follow-up to the London International Conference held in 2018, and served as a platform to establish partnerships with the countries in the region and major transit and destination countries, for the prevention and coordinated control of illegal wildlife trade. Convened discussions included emerging issues such as the strengthening and harmonization of legal frameworks and their enforcement; controls and regulations on wildlife trade; use of new technologies to combat illegal wildlife trade; and demand reduction through innovative and efficient communication mechanisms.

At the conference, the Lima Declaration was enacted. Local community representatives across Latin America also released a joint statement requesting recognition of their role in wildlife management and sustainable use as a solution to address the illegal wildlife trade. The next regional IWT meeting is scheduled to be held in Columbia in 2021.

Meeting announcement information source: CITES Notification to the Parties No. 2019/020.

CALL FOR PAPERS – managing demand for wildlife products

The guest editors invite submissions to People and Nature covering novel research and approaches to managing demand for wildlife products, in particular: (1) understanding consumer preferences and choices, (2) design and implementation of behavior change interventions, and (3) impact evaluation of interventions aiming to influence consumers of wildlife products.

Prospective authors should submit a 300 word abstract together with a tentative title to Diogo Veríssimo (diogo.gasparverissimo@zoo.ox.ac.uk) for consideration. Full manuscripts must be submitted by the 31st of October 2019.

Latin American & Caribbean network to combat wildlife trafficking

The Brazilian Network to Combat Wildlife Trafficking – RENCTAS, is currently developing an International Campaign Against Wildlife Trafficking (ICAWT), which will launch in the coming months. This project aims to stimulate a collaborative network of local NGOs and universities from Latin American and Caribbean countries to combat animal trafficking in the region.

The project will use an online platform and forum to connect different parts of the region, as well as to facilitate the exchange of information and the dissemination of initiatives on a global scale to increase overall awareness about the impact of the illegal wildlife trade on Latin American and Caribbean biodiversity.

Expected activities include (among others): a multi-faceted campaign to raise awareness about wildlife trafficking; a report on the social networks developing this criminal activity; replicable pilot conservation projects in collaboration with indigenous and riverside communities to promote land conservation.

RENCTAS is seeking local NGOs and universities in Latin America and Caribbean to join the initiative, as well as foreign partners to bring technical guidance to and share their experience and expertise. Please get in touch with Thiago Costa at thiago@renctas.org.br to engage with this network.